Pressure is growing on Fine Gael leader and 26 County Taoiseach Enda Kenny to declare a timetable for his departure as questions mount over his leadership abilities in the wake of the Brexit crisis in Britain.
The Taoiseach’s judgment is being questioned after he was seen to be caught off guard by the unionist rejection of a plan for an all-Ireland forum on the Brexit crisis.
After his Ministers had championed the idea over the weekend, Kenny appeared at a loss after DUP leader Arlene Foster’s abrupt dismissal of the idea at a joint press conference in Dublin Castle.
“It wasn’t to be. Obviously, it couldn’t function effectively unless you had buy-in from everybody,” Mr Kenny said, adding: “I still think the forum suggestion is a good suggestion -- I don’t believe there should be a [unionist] veto.”
But under pressure to display leadership in the face of global economic turmoil, his ‘handbagging’ at the hands of the North’s First Minister was seized on by his internal party opponents.
There was criticism of his handling of the peace process as well as mutterings over his ability to deal with the Brexit fallout.
In the Dail on Tuesday, Labour leader Brendan Howlin described Ms Foster’s rejection of the Taoiseach’s proposal as a “humiliation”. Fine Gael TDs claimed Dublin’s Department of Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan had been “blindsided” and “embarrassed” by Mr Kenny’s proposal.
At a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Wednesday night, a handful of TDs said a process for dealing with the leadership issue needed to be put in place. A number of senior Ministers were reported as having called for an “orderly process” to allow Mr Kenny step aside on his own terms.
The party fears a snap general election due to the instability of their minority government, which includes a number of independents and is critically dependent on Fianna Fail support.
Last week, the Independent Alliance publicly defied Mr Kenny by voting as they wished on an abortion Bill. “That was a clear signal this Government is not going to last and we have to be ready for an election at any time,” said one Minister.
The forced resignation of the head of the commission on water charges earlier this week was another massive embarrassment. Recently tasked with reviewing the highly divisive charges, former trade union leader Joe O’Toole made clear his support for the charges and his disdain for those protesting against it. His ouster was blamed by Fine Gael TDs on Fianna Fail, who they accused of darkly controlling events behind the scenes.
And despite a boom in tax receipts, Mr Kenny stands accused of taking no action to assist those in financial difficulty. Ugly stand-offs around the country continue to recall famine-era evictions. One bankruptcy seizure on a farm in County Monaghan this week ended in a horrific manner with the shooting of five cattle by members of the 26 County Army after they could not be herded onto a trailer.
Such episodes and a steady decline in the polls has convinced a number of Fine Gael Ministers that Mr Kenny should not hang on for too long. “If he waits too long, you are going to see a reaction,” said one.
Among the contenders to replace Kenny are Minister for Housing Simon Coveney (pictured, above right) and Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar (pictured, below right).