Uneasy detente in Kenny leadership row

Enda Kenny’s detractors are standing down for the moment but as sure as day follows night, as one TD said, they will be back seeking regime change in Fine Gael when the next chance presents itself, writes Juno McEnroe

They won’t go away. No amount of tea or cake will silence their concerns and those demanding leadership change are just waiting for the Taoiseach to slip up again before taking their next shot.

Nonetheless, the mini-rebellion will stand down for the moment, content in the knowledge Kenny knows they can raise a storm and will over issues that matter for ordinary TDs.

At the centre of the criticism is the reappointment of Senator James Reilly as deputy party leader. Understandably, the former minister accused his critics this week of using him as a “proxy” to get to Kenny.

Several of the TDs involved deny this. Their concerns are about what might happen if there was a snap election and Fianna Fáil were riding high in the polls.

Real change is wanted for the party, especially after its loss of 26 seats in the election and a low level of support emerging in polls.

“As sure as day follows night, there will be another cock up. There was no big hit, the dissidents were shot down by the loyalists but there a change of guard coming,” said one experienced TD.

While there is no strategy around how Fine Gaelers might press Kenny again to step aside, many expect those who got no rewards after the election to stay snapping at his heels.

“Some people got ministries, some got junior ministeries while some just got coffee,” said one party insider yesterday. This was in reference to Kenny’s attempt to calm nerves after the heated Wednesday night party meeting by bringing rebel TDs for tea and coffee in the Leinster House canteen. This won’t be enough.

“The show of affection in the canteen was the Taoiseach’s doing, it won’t work,” said one rebel TD.

In the meantime, the two favourites to head any leadership race, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney, are said not to want any contest right now. Timing is everything.

It is understood Coveney is also willing to give the Taoiseach his own time to decide when to go. That level of trust though is not clear when it comes to Varadkar, say party insiders.

“He will do it in his own time. He won’t be pushed around,” said one Cabinet source about Kenny.

A lot of Kenny loyalists would also look to Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald as a natural successor and the justice minister should not be ruled out as having a strong chance, if a vacancy arises.

In the meantime, party dissidents (who are quite happy to label themselves that) are content in the knowledge they have forced the first big conversation about Kenny’s leadership since the last failed heave in 2010. Those TDs will watch over the summer, and particularly in September, for an opportunity to push for leadership change again.

“The logical argument is that he goes in September, in an orderly and calm fashion. But by putting a gun to his head, that will make it much harder,” said a magnanimous rebel TD.

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