Taoiseach wants to stay... but pressure grows for exit plan
Ministers who have stood back from the leadership issue are growing impatient with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and want him to quickly spell out his exit strategy.
Ministers seen as being particularly loyal to Mr Kenny now say he must depart by the summer at the latest to allow for an orderly transition. Others within the party want the issue finalised before the end of this year.
Mr Kenny has stunned some of his closest allies by claiming at the Fine Gael think-in in Newbridge, Co Kildare that he has no intention of leaving the job before the Government fulfils it full term.
In real terms that could mean up to three years as Fianna Fail, - who underpin the minority coalition - have promised support for three Budgets. Some of Mr Kenny's supporters suspect he took the decision in a bid to kill off speculation about his leadership well ahead of the Dail break next Christmas.
But the issue has backfired and now ministers seen as being allies of Mr Kenny believe he should step aside next year. "It's becoming too big of an issue now," one Cabinet source said.
Mr Kenny had a strong and defiant message for would-be rebels yesterday after several assertions that he was going nowhere.
"I've a mandate from the Oireachtas as Taoiseach and head of government in the most challenging times our country has seen for a long time," he told reporters at the think-in.
He said party politics could not take precedence over Brexit, the upcoming Budget, developing Dublin's north inner city, housing, health and education.
At the close of the two-day pre-Dail meeting there were renewed rumours that some rebel TDs might miss key votes in protest over Mr Kenny's refusal to step aside. But a number of TDs, seen as opposed to Mr Kenny remaining on as leader, said they would not partake in such a strategy which would only further destabilise the Government.
Earlier yesterday Mr Kenny's claim on "another two years" was promptly and strongly challenged by two maverick Fine Gael TDs, Brendan Griffin of Kerry and Jim Daly of Cork South West. The criticisms came little more than two hours after Mr Kenny signalled on national radio that he wanted to stay on for a longer period and "fulfil his mandate".