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The long goodbye: Fine Gael’s leadership tussle

Inside Politics: Enda Kenny’s tactic of remaining silent countered by Simon Coveney intervention

A week is an eternity in political journalism. Tell me about it!

Six days into the proxy war of the Fine Gael leadership tussle we are running out of things to say.

We are like the characters in Brendan Behan’s The Quare Fellow (set in a prison, hours before an execution) waiting impatiently for the execution to happen.

It is all talk, talk, talk. We pounce on the slightest statement, analyse Charlie Flanagan’s unfortunate WhatsApp text like wartime code-breakers and speculate endlessly.


Meanwhile, we all move slowly and inexorably, waiting for dawn to arrive.

We wait, and we wait.

Down in Galway Simon Harris tells us he is big enough to dance with the stars. Meanwhile Leo and the other Simon do a clumsy waltz across the dance floor. They keep slyly stepping on each other's feet, are completely unco-ordinated, and you are not sure which of them is leading.

But you guess they are kind of working as a team - for the next day or two at least.

Meanwhile, Enda Kenny opens a forest trail in Balla (pronounced 'Bal' by the way) in Mayo and tweets he has a very busy agenda on Tuesday.

You betcha he does. He has Cabinet, then there is Leaders' Questions, and then he is meeting a fellow called Frans Timmermanns (nope, I've never heard of him either). He happens to be vice president of the European Commission, so by rights I should have heard of him.

Kenny forgets to mention the, erm, the other pressing engagement. That would be his encounter with a fellow called Grim Reapersmanns sometime tomorrow evening.

Kenny has escaped from a couple of near political-death experiences in the past, but I just cannot see a scenario this time where “with one bound he was free”.

It did look promising at the weekend when Varadkar was plying the pressure on an early exit, the republican guard were calling for summary execution and Coveney was saying he opposed all that and would oppose any motion of confidence.

At that moment, Kenny’s tactic of remaining silent seemed to be paying off. He could deal himself into the game on the Coveney approach and then go ‘all in’ by asking the party to trust him if he went for an early if unspecified exit (think the summer, maybe even the autumn).

But that was foreclosed when Coveney effectively set out a timeline on Sunday.

Varadkar's people maintain that it was Leo's impatient statement on Saturday night demanding early clarification from Kenny that forced Coveney into naming a date. The Cork man's supporters, of course, deny this was the case, saying it was all part of the plan. Here is our main story on it today.

The upshot was that Kenny’s exit could not be leisurely.

So what will he do tomorrow? It is hard to know. In Mayo, they are saying he might try to maximise his remaining time as leader, talking about 12 weeks-plus, allowing him to lead the opening Brexit negotiations after Britain triggers Article 50.

If he makes an emotional appeal to the parliamentary party on those terms, it might be too hard to resist.

In any instance, we will continue to layer speculation upon speculation today and tomorrow. We know how the story will end, but we are not sure yet of when that will be.