Kenny has my support, says Doherty, after calling for timeline on future

Chief Whip says ‘decision on his future when he makes it will be completely his own’

Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty has said Taoiseach Enda Kenny has her "full support and backing" after earlier calling on him to clarify the process for him stepping aside.

Enda Kenny's leadership of Fine Gael remained in sharp focus on Friday after Ms Doherty's initial comments on local radio,

Ms Doherty made the comments, which follow on from questions about the party’s next leader during a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday, while she was responding to mounting speculation over Mr Kenny’s leadership.

However, she told The Irish Times on Friday evening: "An Taoiseach now and always has my full support and backing. The decision on his future when he makes it will be completely his own to make."


Senior Ministers also said on Friday that Mr Kenny continued to have their full support. Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said “we are making real progress in ensuring continued economic growth and in dealing with the challenges our country faces.

“Talk of leadership of the party is a distraction from the vital work of Government. As Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, I am fully focussed on making sensible choices with the taxpayers’ money.”

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar said there is “no vacancy” at the top of Fine Gael at present.

“There is no vacancy at the moment. Everyone in this Government, including me, has a lot of work to do and my focus is firmly on the department of social protection.

“The Taoiseach has made clear he will not lead the party in a future general election. This means there will be a leadership election at a future date. That will be the appropriate time to deal with the issue of the leadership of Fine Gael. The vacancy won’t arise until the Taoiseach decides it should.”

A spokesperson for Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said there is "no vacancy for the Fine Gael leadership".

“When a vacancy arises is a decision for the Taoiseach,” Ms Fitzgerald said. “The Tánaiste fully respects the Taoiseach’s

right to make that decision, as he has outlined already. It would be inappropriate to comment any further.”

“At this time the Taoiseach and Government have critically important work to do for this country and the Tanaiste fully supports the Taoiseach in

carrying out his role.”

A poll published in today's Irish Times shows Leo Vardakar is the most popular choice to replace Mr Kenny as Fine Gael leader.

Asked who they would like to see succeeding Mr Kenny as party leader 31 per cent opted for Mr Varadkar, 21 per cent for Mr Coveney, 10 per cent for Frances Fitzgerald, 5 per cent for Simon Harris, 3 per cent for Pascal Donohoe, 2 per cent for Others, with 29 per cent having no opinion.

Ms Doherty told The Michael Reade Show on LMFM this morning that the leadership issue must not become a distraction.

“Unless there’s clarification of the process laid out, there will be confusion. Otherwise you’re going to have me and the other 49 members of Fine Gael telling you something different until it is clarified.

“It would be fair if the Taoiseach clarified this so we could get back to normal,” Ms Doherty said.

The poll follows a turbulent week in the Dáil for Mr Kenny during which a number of Independent Ministers voted against the Government to support an abortion Bill put forward by Wexford TD Mick Wallace.

The Taoiseach also suffered a rebuff from Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster on the proposed All-Ireland Brexit forum.

His decision to reappoint Dr James Reilly as the deputy leader prompted shock amongst backbench TDs, not least because Mr Kenny had said in recent weeks that Mr Reilly would not be considered for the role.