Kenny says he expects to be taoiseach


FINE GAEL leader Enda Kenny has said he expects to be taoiseach and that there is a strong probability it may happen within the next 12 months.

Mr Kenny, speaking on RTÉ's The Week in Politics, said: "I expect to be taoiseach. I've waited a long time as an apprentice, if you like. My party has been in opposition for too long.

"We have the hunger, the ambition, the competence, the drive and the policies to actually do this. Whenever it comes, I'll be ready for it.

"In politics you just never know - it is like life, anything can happen. I believe the probability of an election is very strong for next year, and we will be ready to meet that challenge, if and when it happens."

However, the possibility of an election in 2009 was dismissed by both Government parties. A Green Party spokesman said it did not accept Mr Kenny's analysis. "The Green Party has said again and again that we are in Government for the long haul," he said.

A Labour Party spokesman said that leader Eamon Gilmore had asked party members "to make preliminary preparation for a possible general election that could take place at any time".

Mr Kenny did not rule out a change of Government without an election, although he said his preference was to have a fresh electoral mandate.

"I could certainly envisage something happening like happened back in 1994, but it is not for discussion now.

"It remains to be seen what happens in the Dáil."

The Fine Gael leader was expanding on comments he made at a Fine Gael presidential dinner at the weekend where he told supporters that he was putting the party on an election footing.

To that end, the party will unveil what it describes as "major policy initiatives" on health and the economy at its national convention later this month.

It will also hold some 30 "town hall" meetings between now and early December.

The format is popular in the US and involves a national representative addressing an open meeting and answering questions from the public.

The first meeting will take place next week at a venue yet to be announced.

"It is part of a strategy to maintain momentum and to keep pressure on the Government and its Budget," said the Fine Gael spokesman. "More importantly, it will give the party an opportunity to outline an alternative strategy for dealing with the economic crisis. It is the beginning of a long campaign for government," he added.

The Fine Gael leader also called on the Government to recapitalise the banks now rather than later.

"There are a number of options open to them, but there is no point coming to me at four o'clock in the morning in the month of February or March saying 'another emergency, another crisis, what are we going to do?' Let us see what their strategy is now," he said.

Mr Kenny said he believed that a supplementary or further Budget might also be necessary in early 2009.

On the same programme, Minister of State for the national drugs strategy John Curran said the economic situation does not mean the Government should start thinking about a general election.

"I don't think that means we plan for a general election, it means we plan to deal with the problem as we see it today, and that is why the Budget was framed in the way that it was," said Mr Curran.