Fine Gael TDs told to ‘show respect’ to Enda Kenny

Parliamentary party chair asks members to stop making statements about the Taoiseach

 

The chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party has told the party’s TDs and Senators to show respect to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

In an email to TDs and Senators on Friday night, Martin Heydon said he was “greatly concerned that the Taoiseach and leader of our party is not being shown the respect his service and his office deserve”.

Mr Heydon asked that, in the interests of the party and “of common decency”, that members “refrain from making further public utterances about our party leader.

“Such comments ultimately hurt our party. Any comments should be kept for next week’s parliamentary party meeting.”

Mr Kenny’s leadership of the party has come under renewed pressure over his handling of the allegations that senior gardaí organised a smear campaign against Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe

Earlier on Friday, a Fine Gael TD said he no longer had confidence in Mr Kenny’s leadership of the party and called on him to stand down from the position.

In a statement, Dublin Fingal’s Alan Farrell said Mr Kenny’s position was “now untenable”.

“Fine Gael, as a party in Government, requires a leader who can manage the party in a manner which inspires faith amongst the parliamentary party, our local representatives and the wider membership,” Mr Farrell said.

“We must be prepared to tackle the challenges which arise in our society.

“In doing so, we require a leader who can lead with confidence, and highlight how the values and principles of Fine Gael can best benefit our society and every community across our country.”

He also said he wished to “acknowledge Enda Kenny’s unwavering commitment to public service and to working in the best interests of our society and the Irish public.

“While I sincerely thank An Taoiseach for the work he has done in rebuilding our party since becoming leader in 2002, and even more so for his incredible stewardship of the country since 2011, I believe it is now time for him to step aside and allow a new leader, with a fresh approach, to lead us into the future.”

The statement came as Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said he will not give Mr Kenny an ultimatum, but that he trusts the Taoiseach to “trust his own judgment”.

Minister of State for European Affairs Dara Murphy said on Friday he wanted Mr Kenny to remain as Taoiseach for a number of months and that he should not stand down in the short-term.

Mr Murphy said on Friday morning that the change of leadership in Fine Gael should not take place for several months at least, because Mr Kenny’s role in leading Ireland’s response to Brexit was at a critical juncture.

“To change the captain of our team before we run out of the dressing room is a ludicrous proposal,” Mr Murphy said.

When pressed, Mr Murphy would not specify any particular date for Mr Kenny to step down.

“The Taoiseach has been clear. He has a unique skillset. At this point for our country, the last thing we should be talking about frankly is leadership change,” Mr Murphy said.

He made the comments to reporters on his way into the second meeting of the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit, which took place in Dublin Castle.

Mr Kenny spoke at the conference, but declined to talk to reporters on the way in.

Uncertainty

The Taoiseach’s comments on Thursday night that he was focusing on his work gave rise to a degree of uncertainty as to if and when he will step down as party leader.

While his strongest supporters in the party agree that the events of the past week have brought forward the date for a change in leadership, some are now arguing that the process should not take place over the next few weeks but later this year, when the Brexit talks are more advanced.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan also seemed to suggest a slightly longer timetable for Mr Kenny’s departure.

Speaking in Irish, he said that the Taoiseach would be involved with the start of the negotiations (due after article 50 is triggered in March), but not the end.

It is understood that both leading candidates to succeed Mr Kenny, Mr Coveney and Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, would like a speedier transition.

Backbench TD Pat Deering has threatened to table a motion of no confidence in Mr Kenny at the next parliamentary party meeting, if the Taoiseach does not clarify his intentions in advance of it.

On his way into the Brexit event on Friday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan also ruled himself out as a candidate for leadership.

His colleague, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe, similarly ruled himself out.

At the conference, Mr Kenny confined his comments to Brexit and did not refer to the Fine Gael leadership situation.

Ireland will oppose a hard Border,” he vowed.

“This country will remain open to investment, to trade, to talented people who come here to work and to do business and to do trade.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin warned of the leadership debate dominating political discourse at a critical time for the State.

“We need focus. Brexit is the greatest threat to Ireland since the foundation of the State,” he said.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the difficulties for Ireland from Brexit would be compounded by any leadership hiatus in the Republic.

“We need somebody with a clear view, not only of the coming weeks but also of the coming years,” he said.