More FG figures question Kenny’s leadership

Unrest may grow if low poll figures do not improve by spring

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness.  Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

 

A growing number of Fine Gael figures – both backbenchers and Ministers – are beginning to question Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s leadership of the party, and whether he is the correct person to lead them into the next election.

While no moves against Mr Kenny are anticipated in the short term, his position could come under further pressure if Fine Gael’s poll figures do not improve by the spring, some TDs believe.

The latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll put Fine Gael on 19 per cent, its lowest standing since 2003, with Mr Kenny’s satisfaction rating also on 19 per cent – the lowest of any party leader.

Sinn Féin has tabled a motion of no confidence in Mr Kenny, which will be heard next week in the Dáil and voted on on Wednesday evening, the same night as the water charges protest.

One of Mr Kenny’s allies said Sinn Féin had done “him a huge favour”, with Fine Gael TDs and senators now likely to row in behind the Taoiseach.

However, a further string of bad polls, or another controversy like the John McNulty Seanad by-election affair, are seen as the most likely catalyst for renewed questions of Mr Kenny.

“He cannot take another McNulty,” one TD said. “I don’t necessarily think it will be about polls, but about issues. He is vulnerable now, another McNulty or anything like that could cause it.”

There are concerns at all levels of the party including some Cabinet Ministers. “If there is a problem, it has to be dealt with,” said one Minister.

However, another Minister loyal to Mr Kenny said: “What do they propose to do? This is not an Opposition heave, this is Taoiseach of the country. We would be 12 months out from an election. Look at the Labour Party – it didn’t work for them.”

Yesterday’s poll put Labour at 6 per cent, with Tánaiste Joan Burton’s personal ratings dropping 12 to 25 per cent.

The personal ratings are seen as a blow as Labour strategists had been hoping to rebuild on Ms Burton’s personal popularity.

Some in Fine Gael, however, maintain the disappointment with Mr Kenny is mostly confined to those who voted against him in the 2010 heave.

“The people I am talking to are the same people are I was talking to four and half years ago,” said one deputy who voted against Mr Kenny in the heave.

“Fine Gael with a younger leader could do very well,” said another. “Kenny is not liked out there.”

Those spoken of as alternative leaders include Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and Minister for Agriculture and Defence Simon Coveney.

Speaking last night, Meath East TD Regina Doherty said while everyone in the party was disappointed by The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, the party collectively, and not Mr Kenny alone, was polling poorly.

“Of course we are gutted, it’s not a good position to be in but it just makes you want to work harder. For anybody who suggests that is a problem, they are missing the problem. Collectively as a party we are on 19 per cent.

“Do we regret making the decisions that are going to bring the most unprecedented recovery? The way we have done things leaves a lot to be desired, but the essence of what we have done – these are the right decisions to have made.”