Kenny to trigger FG leadership contest after US visit

Taoiseach ‘philosophical’ and intended to step aside in coming months, say sources

Sources said Enda Kenny wanted to remain party leader during the election of his successor. Photograph: The Irish Times

Sources said Enda Kenny wanted to remain party leader during the election of his successor. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will arrange for the election of a new Fine Gael leader soon after he returns from Washington DC next month but will not specifically layout a timeframe for his departure this week.

Mr Kenny will not definitively tell his parliamentary party tomorrow when the process of electing a new leader will begin, but will instead say the issue will be dealt with after St Patrick’s Day.

A close friend of Mr Kenny’s said it is likely he will trigger the 20-day contest to elect a new Fine Gael leader after his March 16th visit to meet US president Donald Trump at the White House.

Sources said the Taoiseach did not want to travel to Washington with a “cloud” hanging over him, and that being in place for the beginning of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union was important to him.

Mr Kenny informed friends in Mayo of his decision over the weekend. He is said to be “philosophical” and to have always intended to retire in the coming months.

“He was never going to stay past the summer,” said Mr Kenny’s friend.

“He’s a good man being pushed out. But it’s generational change in the party, and sometimes you just can’t hold back the tide.

“He is very resilient; he wouldn’t have brought us through these last few years if he wasn’t. He will be remembered as a great taoiseach.”

Mr Kenny will be in Washington DC on March 15th and 16th, with his meeting with Mr Trump scheduled for Thursday, March 16th.

Front-runners

Simon CoveneyLeo Varadkar

Other Ministers, including Simon Harris, Richard Bruton and Frances Fitzgerald, have all also been mentioned as possible candidates. Paschal Donohoe has ruled himself out.

It means Mr Kenny will be Taoiseach for the European Council meeting on March 9th and 10th, when British prime minister Theresa May is expected to trigger the article 50 process to officially begin the process of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

Mr Kenny will also remain as Taoiseach pending the election of his successor, which means he will represent Ireland during the opening weeks of the Brexit negotiations.

A group of TDs are threatening to table a motion of no confidence in Mr Kenny if he does not outline a solid timeline at tomorrow’s meeting, but this has angered others.

Andrew Doyle, the Minister of State for Agriculture, said he found the behaviour of some of his colleagues “distasteful”.

“There is a right way and a wrong way to do this, and I want to see everybody do it the dignified way.”

Sources said Mr Kenny also wanted to remain as party leader during the election of his successor, although Fine Gael rules say a vacancy must arise before a contest takes place.

“Polling day and times of opening will be determined by the executive council, but shall not be later than 20 days after a vacancy in the position of leader arises,” the Fine Gael constitution says.

It was suggested that there was no clarity on this point because this method of electing a leader, introduced under Mr Kenny, has never been tested.

It gives 65 per cent of the voting weight to the parliamentary party, 25 per cent to rank-and-file members, and 10 per cent to councillors. It includes a series of regional hustings.