Enda: will he stay or will he go? Only he knows the real answer

Enda Kenny (centre) keeping his wannabe successors Leo Varadkar (left) and Simon Coveney guessing

There have probably been plenty of occasions over the last six months when Enda Kenny questioned his decision to rule himself out of leading Fine Gael into the next General Election.

 

A partnership agreement that has lasted longer than the bookmakers predicted; a minority Government supported by Fianna Fail and Independents who have agreed on enough fundamentals to make it through a year; a Budget passed; a resolve – for however long it lasts – on water charges; a continued drop in unemployment and growth in the economy; to name just a few milestones achieved under this Government.

Not bad when you consider how Leo Varadkar was tweeting photos of election posters during the Government’s formation talks.

However, a moment in politics can seem a lifetime, and Ireland is now in a far different place than it was 18 months ago.

Following the disappointing results for Fine Gael after the last election in February 2016, with the loss of 26 seats, and the near disastrous results for the Labour party with the loss of 30 seats, the vista was a far less optimistic one.

Bowing to political pressure, and with two enthusiastic young party members openly expressing their interest in the leadership, Enda Kenny ruled himself out of leading Fine Gael through the next election, and has been on a timer ever since.


Muddled waters

However, a number of events on both a National and International front, such as the decision by the UK to leave the EU, the successful election of Donald Trump as US President, and the current political stand-off in Northern Ireland, have since muddied the Fine Gael waters and offered Enda Kenny a political lifeboat to stay afloat longer than most could have anticipated.

 

While a surge of revolt within the party a month ago may have thrown lesser leaders, Enda Kenny was not for moving.

 

Following the recent bump in popularity for the current Fine Gael leader, with the B&A/ ‘Sunday Times’ poll showing Mr Kenny’s popularity rising eight per cent to 35 per cent, no doubt inflated by his performance at the White House during his St Patrick’s Day visit, and with the upcoming talks on the Brexit/EU negotiations planned, there is plenty afoot to argue that Enda should remain where he is , at least in the short term.

Indeed, Enda announced that he would be travelling to Canada next week for a series of engagements with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Irish community in Canada, meaning he will likely delay making his leadership intentions clear for another week.

In February, Mr Kenny told his TDs and Senators he would deal with his leadership of Fine Gael “effectively and conclusively” upon his return from the United States following his St Patrick’s Day visit. He subsequently said he was staying in office to see the beginning of the Brexit negotiations and establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive, which have recently been extended until the end of June.

While a surge of revolt within the party a month ago may have thrown lesser leaders, Enda Kenny was not for moving. So successfully did he manage to brush off his bidders, that he received a unanimous round of applause from those same individuals when he said that he would not outline his departure date till he was good and ready to do so.

However, there is a restlessness growing – with both front runners Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar expressing their interest in the role. The party wants to see a change at the helm, and it is thought by some that the sooner it happens, the less factitious a process it will be. For the first time, the decision of leadership will be a much more open and democratic process. The Parliamentary party, TDs, senators and MEPs will make up 65 per cent of the vote. Councillors, who make up ten per cent of the vote will have their say, but the rank and file membership will account for a quarter of the decision.


Willingness to continue

Additionally, the sooner the new leader is in place, the longer ‘bedding-in’ time they will have before the next election is called; time to put in place their vision for the future of the party and outline a strategy.

While Fianna Fail has outlined its willingness to continue the current Confidence & Supply Agreement which supports the Government, there is no doubting the political realities of this delicate agreement. While the party has ruled out any change to the agreement in the wake of a leadership change in Fine Gael, they will certainly be keeping an eye on the polls and their own political objectives.

Last week Enda Kenny became the longest-serving Fine Gael Taoiseach, an achievement that most believed would never happened. While his leadership has seen a number of historic milestones for the Fine Gael party since 2011, what exists now is a parliamentary party torn between the continued success of and a desire to see a change at the helm.

Many are predicting a timeline for Enda’s departure will be outlined by early May, with a change expected before the summer break in July. However, if we have learned anything, it is that the only predictions Enda Kenny believes are his own.