No Fine Gael challenge to Kenny if he quits after US trip

Taoiseach expected to indicate he will step down after meeting US president in March

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Simon Coveney  and Leo Varadkar in 2010. Mr Kenny will say the leadership issue will be dealt with after he visits Washington DC for St Patrick’s Day. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar in 2010. Mr Kenny will say the leadership issue will be dealt with after he visits Washington DC for St Patrick’s Day. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Fine Gael TDs have said they will not table a motion of no-confidence in the Taoiseach if he gives a firm indication he will step down soon after his return from the US.

Enda Kenny will on Wednesday evening address his parliamentary party, where he will give enough of a hint that it will be clear that he will stand down soon after next month’s meeting with US president Donald Trump.

“There’ll be a bit of reading between the lines, but politicians are good at that,” said one source.

As reported by The Irish Times on Tuesday, Mr Kenny will not specifically lay out a timeframe for his departure, but will instead say the issue will be dealt with after he visits Washington DC for St Patrick’s Day.

A number of TDs have contemplated tabling a motion of no confidence in Mr Kenny’s leadership because they did not believe he would stand aside. Such a motion would need the support of five TDs, Senators or MEPs. One cannot be taken at Wednesday evening’s meeting because it has not been submitted in time.

Deputies considering tabling the motion said the threat would be withdrawn if Mr Kenny gave a firm indication he will step down next month. If he does not do so, the motion again becomes an option and would have to be taken at next week’s party meeting if it garnered enough support.

Carlow-Kilkenny’s Pat Deering, who initially raised the prospect of a motion, said he accepted the St Patrick’s Day timeframe but insisted there must be clarity from Mr Kenny. “If he doesn’t give a definite indication, there will be a motion,” he said.

Division Cork South West’s Jim Daly said the contest to succeed Mr Kenny was effectively under way and needed to be formalised by his stepping down as party leader, but remaining on as Taoiseach. “He would still be Taoiseach while we elect a new leader,” Mr Daly added.

One strongly anti-Kenny TD, however, said a motion would cause division for the sake of potentially bringing forward Mr Kenny’s departure by a few weeks. “If he says he will conclusively deal with this after America, what we can do? Divide the party for the sake of three weeks?”

Other anti-Kenny deputies have said they want nothing to do with a motion at all, due to the memory of the bitter 2010 heave.

The majority of TDs are willing to allow Mr Kenny begin the contest after St Patrick’s Day. Such a timetable for his departure 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 Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Cabinet Ministers and sources close to Minster for Social Protection Leo Varadkar and Minister for Housing Simon Coveney, the frontrunners to succeed Mr Kenny, say a broad outline of intent from the Taoiseach would be satisfactory.

Mr Kenny will be in Washington on March 15th and 16th, with his meeting with Mr Trump scheduled for Thursday, March 16th. He will also be in New York on March 17th and 18th.

A Fine Gael leadership election will take up to 20 days, which means a new taoiseach would be in place towards the end of April. Mr Kenny would overtake John A Costello as the longest-serving Fine Gael taoiseach on April 20th.