Varadkar and Coveney seek calm in push against Kenny

Some Fine Gael TDs hoping Taoiseach will stand aside but Ministers resist pressure

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are considered the frontrunners to replace the Taoiseach. Photograph:  Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are considered the frontrunners to replace the Taoiseach. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

 

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar and Minister for Housing Simon Coveney have moved to calm Fine Gael backbenchers who want to rapidly remove Enda Kenny as party leader.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney are the frontrunners to replace the Taoiseach, and many TDs privately believe they should approach him and ask him to set out a timeline for his departure.

A large number of Ministers and TDs believe it is up to both to go to Mr Kenny together and deliver such a message.

Sources close to the two Ministers, however, say that is extremely unlikely and it is still hoped that Mr Kenny will soon step aside of his own accord.

Both Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney have spent recent days asking the Fine Gael parliamentary party to calm down.

The Taoiseach’s departure as party leader is now widely viewed as having been brought forward following the controversy over the alleged smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Snap election

TDs have been spooked by the possibility of a snap general election, especially as Mr Kenny has said he will not lead Fine Gael into another election.

The Fine Gael parliamentary party meets tonight, with views divided over whether Mr Kenny will be challenged on his leadership and his performance in recent days.

A senior minister said a “handful” of backbenchers were agitating for a move against Mr Kenny as soon as this week, or in the next fortnight. This includes TDs who have not previously spoken out against him.

Such was the fevered atmosphere within Fine Gael, a rumour circulated among TDs that Mr Kenny’s office had been sent a message conveying the strength of feeling in the parliamentary party on the leadership issue. This was denied by a spokesman for Mr Kenny.

Another minister confirmed that the agitation about Mr Kenny’s leadership had spread much wider that the usual group of disgruntled TDs.

“This is beyond the usual group,” said one. Another TD said the “rubicon had been crossed”.

At least one TD said he wanted the leadership issue tackled this week, but admitted that “others are more reticent”. The vast majority of parliamentary party want to wait until the Sinn Féin motion of no confidence in the Government is dealt with.

Leadership

Significantly, a widening number of figures – at Cabinet level and below – believe the issue of Mr Kenny’s leadership could be raised as soon as next week, and may not wait until after he returns from his St Patrick’s Day trip to the White House to visit US president Donald Trump.

“When do we do it then?” asked one TD. “If not before the White House, then it will be into April and it will drag on even further.”

Other sources, however, said that Mr Kenny would get a reprieve if he gets to the weekend without his leadership being challenged. The pause could allow him to survive for longer.

It is still viewed as likely, however, that Mr Kenny will travel to Washington. Even if his leadership was to come under question before then, a Fine Gael leadership contest would take weeks, which likely means that Mr Kenny would stay on as caretaker Taoiseach pending its completion.

When asked if Mr Kenny would fight a motion of no confidence in his leadership, the Taoiseach’s spokesman said that was a hypothetical scenario and such a question would only arise if and when a motion is tabled.