Under intense pressure from within his own party to resign, the 26 County Taoiseach Enda Kenny has insisted he should be allowed to travel to Washington DC to meet Donald Trump on St Patrick’s Day, before making an announcement.
The annual St Patrick’s Day junkets are considered a highlight of the year by Ministers and Junior Ministers, and up to thirty of them are destined for locations as varied as Indonesia and Argentina.
In recent weeks, the Taoiseach has defended his decision to visit the Trump White House for the traditional St Patrick’s Day reception and ‘bowl of shamrock’ photocall. He said while he disagrees with what Trump has been “saying and doing”, he maintained it is “more important than ever” that Ireland’s voice be heard in Washington DC.
This week, in an act of political escapology, he frustrated a potential heave by insisting he would deal with his political future “conclusively” next month. He had been under immense pressure to set out a timetable to quit amid a row over his contradictory statements on the state’s smear campaign against Garda police whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
The Fine Gael leader had previously said he will not lead his party into the next election but has still not given a clear timeline for his departure, fuelling the impatience and angst of potential successors such as Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar.
But incredibly, Mr Kenny received a standing ovation following very brief remarks to a meeting of the Fine Gael Parliamentary party, in which he gave a vague commitment to deal with the leadership issue “effectively” and “conclusively” on his return from the US next month.
Housing Minister Simon Coveney said he now believed there would be a leadership contest in the near-term and “not some far point in the future”. He said Kenny, a political veteran of 42 years in parliament, had “rolled out something the party can accept and something that keeps his authority intact.”
An optimistic Leo Varadkar has already begun his campaign to succeed Mr Kenny. Amid a whispering campaign in the right-wing media, the Minister for Social Protection, who announced he was gay in 2015, said he does not want to make an issue of his personal life during the Fine Gael leadership election, and hoped others would not do so either.
Mr Varadkar also warned Mr Kenny that this St Patrick’s Day cannot be all about just “smiles and shamrocks”. He has previously spoken out against the US President and that he “wouldn’t be keen” on inviting Donald Trump to visit Ireland. He mentioned the reception Barack Obama received when he came to Ireland, and warned that Trump would not receive a similar welcome.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams warned that Fine Gael’s leadership affairs are a distraction to the work of the Dublin government. Mr Adams said “there are more important issues to consider” and that the “internal machinations” of Fine Gael were a clear distraction from those.
“It’s a matter for Fine Gael who leads Fine Gael,” he said. “But its a matter for the rest of us who leads the government. And Sinn Fein have made it clear that we want this curent government out.”