herald

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Pressure grows on Enda to clarify his exit strategy following US trip

Kenny backed Donald Tusk
Kenny backed Donald Tusk

Enda Kenny must provide greater clarity surrounding his pledge to step aside as Taoiseach during his first address to the parliamentary party after St Patrick's Day, several ministers have warned.

Following a brief lull within the party over the leadership issue, Fine Gael figures are now growing increasingly concerned that Mr Kenny will seek to extend his tenure beyond the summer.

The Mayo TD is due to travel to the US next week for his much-anticipated visit to the White House to meet US President Donald Trump.

However, a number of party sources of various ranks this week said Mr Kenny will be expected to spell out his plans at the first parliamentary party address following his return, believed to be on March 29.

Unrest

"Any failure to do so will cause unrest," one Cabinet source told the Herald.

Supporters of Leo Varadkar have this week been particularly vocal in relation to their demands for Kenny to step aside following his return.

In contrast, supporters of Simon Coveney said they will maintain their strategy of allowing Mr Kenny to step aside in his own time.

Both camps are confident they have the potential to secure the majority of the support in the parliamentary party - with focus now turning to courting the 19 senators.

Meanwhile, Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has been gauging the support within the party over her prospect of securing seven signatories for a leadership bid.

One figure she is expected to seek support from is Health Minister Simon Harris, who withdrew from the leadership race this week.

Sources say Ms Fitzgerald is also eyeing up the backing of European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy and the party's deputy leader, James Reilly.

Nomination

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys, Regional Development Minister Michael Ring and Senator Joe O'Reilly are also set to be asked to sign her nomination form.

Mr Kenny spent yesterday speaking to fellow EU heads of state in Brussels.

Donald Tusk won a second term as president of the European Council, with the Taoiseach's backing.

The decision was made despite vociferous opposition from the government in Mr Tusk's native Poland, which had put forward an alternative candidate.

There was speculation last week that Mr Kenny was being touted for the job, but he denied the possibility of it ahead of the vote.

"I have a job and I'm voting for Donald Tusk this evening," Mr Kenny told reporters in Brussels.

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