Analysis: Is Enda Kenny’s time finally running out?

Taoiseach responded poorly to difficult week but likely to still be in place for budget

Politicians and those who report on politics tend to look at events through the prism of the here and now. When a crisis unfolds, the consequences are always expressed in absolute and fatalistic terms. “Yer man’s days are numbered,” says the refrain.

And then a week passes. And then another week passes. Not alone has the crisis been averted, but it has been forgotten about. And the goldfish circle the bowl once again.

Make no mistake about it. Enda Kenny's career as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader is drawing to a close. But how quickly? This year or next?

There are two views. One that says this one is the same as all the other times Kenny was about to be forced out by his internal opponents. The other view is that this time it’s different.


There's no doubt that last week was an extremely difficult week for Kenny, not helped by his antiseptic, unsure, resigned response to it all. With The Irish Times poll, the El Niño effect kicked in. Suddenly the leadership question was in play.

But Kenny has been in this place almost every week since the disappointing general election in February.

In March, the Sunday Times was reporting Fianna Fáil was demanding Kenny's head in return for a grand coalition. Shane Ross described him as a political corpse.

At Easter the newspapers were saying that Kenny, if he were re-elected taoiseach, would have to step down within weeks or months.

On April 29th, the Sunday Times predicted that "time was up for Kenny".

Right into June the Sunday Independent was predicting a heave before Christmas.

There's no doubt that last week's events have magnified the leadership issue way beyond all that has happened before. But the uncertainty of last week has been replaced by a steadying of the ship this week. Brendan Griffin was almost unsupported in his call for a change of leadership.

When Kenny said in Mayo on Monday he was going nowhere, his tone was defiant. He was similarly robust in Berlin when he and Angela Merkel held a joint press conference.

His supporters are already spinning that nobody else will have the access or influence or experience he has in dealing with the Brexit crisis.

Political corpse

They are also banking on a strong performance by Kenny at tonight’s parliamentary party meeting plus new dispensation in the autumn when a re-energised Taoiseach returns. The message is: there’s life in the political corpse yet.

The contrary view is: not for long. The past week has demonstrated to Fine Gael TDs just how much the power of Government has been emasculated by the new political arrangements. Fianna Fáil dictated that Joe O’Toole resign from the water commission; the Independents muscled their way to a free vote on the fatal foetal abnormalities Bill.

In both cases the message that Fine Gael TDs received was one of vulnerability.

“We are a lot more exposed than people realised,” said one Minister.

The fear of being tripped into an early election with Kenny as leader – or having to immediately replace him at the start of a campaign – was what prompted the Fine Gael rebels to go public. But more importantly, it also concentrated the minds of a lot of people who didn’t go public.

These include people who have always been loyal to Kenny, and remain of the view that the Taoiseach should not be pushed. They are annoyed at the public criticisms of the last week. But privately they acknowledge they have moved in their assessment of the best time for the Taoiseach to go.

Centre ground

A few weeks ago many of them would have said they were happy to let Kenny choose the time of his departure over the next 18 months or two years. Not anymore. The centre ground of the party has shifted, and that is the real significance of the events of the past week.

Even many of the defences of the Taoiseach from Ministers and TDs in recent days have been qualified.

“Look at what they’re saying – ‘it’s not the right time’ and ‘he needs time’ – time to do what?” says one Minister.

The clock has now run out for a move against Kenny before the summer recess, which begins next week. When the Dáil returns in late September the focus will be on the approaching budget. So now the earliest that the question of Kenny’s leadership will be revisited is after the budget.

Some of his diehard allies say things will settle down in the autumn, that incumbency is a powerful force. And it is.

But sooner or later incumbency runs out. Sooner, say most Fine Gaelers.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times