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When is Enda going? Coveney says leadership battle to kick off before the summer

The latest opinion poll shows that Fine Gael would take more seats with Leo Varadkar as leader.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Simon Coveney, Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Development.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Simon Coveney, Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Development.
Image: Eamonn Farrell

HOUSING MINISTER SIMON COVENEY has said he believes Taoiseach Enda Kenny will make his departure date known by the summer.

When asked about the Fine Gael leadership battle, the minister told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that he trusts Enda Kenny’s judgement to choose the right time to step aside.

“I suspect it will happen before the summer,” said the minister.

“I am very comfortable with letting Enda Kenny use his judgment on that… the Taoiseach is the person in charge of Fine Gael and government. I’m trusting he will use his judgement to get the timing right on that.”

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Coveney – the two frontrunners in the leadership race (although other ministers such as Richard Bruton and Frances Fitzgerald are yet to formally make their intentions known) – are patiently waiting in the wings while Kenny bides his time.

There has been much speculation about when Kenny will step aside as Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach.

St Patrick’s Day visit has come and gone 

Managing to stave off a motion of no confidence in his leadership among party members, the Taoiseach told his party he would make his intentions known following his return from his St Patrick’s Day trip to the White House.

However, while in New York he hinted to the media that there were a lot of issues he wanted to see through before he left the helm of the party – such as the formation of a government in Northern Ireland. That was a firm message to his possible successors that his departure date was being pushed out.

This was followed by Finance Minister Michael Noonan making comments that Kenny should stay on until the autumn. Noonan said he wants Kenny to stay on as Taoiseach past the initial Brexit negotiations until Ireland’s position is made clear.

However, there is really little appetite within the party for the Taoiseach to stay on until that late date.

Whatever date Kenny chooses, Coveney said he is “happy” to give the Taoiseach “the time and space” to make a decision.

But who is leading the pack? 

According to the most recent poll published in the Irish Daily Mail today, support among Fine Gael voters is fairly tight.

If Varadkar is leader, the survey finds the party would take 60 seats in the next election – a significant jump of ten seats. Meanwhile, if Coveney was leader, the party would take 57 seats – up seven seats.

The survey finds that if there was an election today, with Kenny still in the driving seat, Fine Gael would take only 44 seats, a drop-off of six seats for the party.

Speaking on the radio this morning, Coveney said it is important that there is an “orderly transition” of the party leadership. He stated it is also important that the government continues to function during that time.

Garda Whistleblower Story Leo Varadkar and Enda Kenny. Source: Sasko Lazarov

Although the leadership battle hasn’t officially launched, things have been going on in the background for some time now.

Just last week, Varadkar made his pitch in a newspaper article, where he outlined what tax policy he would pursue in the future.

So, how is Coveney’s campaign going? 

Laughing it off when asked this question today, Coveney said, “there is no campaign up and running. I am focusing on a lot of work I have to do on water, housing and homelessness and a whole range of other things”.

“There will be a time when I am very focused on that,” he said, adding that he is getting on with the “serious business of being as good as I can be in government”.

Referencing the latest poll, he said: “There will be polls that will come and go.”

House prices 

Coveney also hit back against calls for him to suspend the Government’s help-to-buy scheme, following claims it is fuelling the latest surge in house prices.

He said both the Central Bank and the Government spotted the same problem – that first-time buyers could not put a deposit together to buy a home.

Defending his scheme, the minister said people were being “locked into the private rental market” and builders were not building homes for that cohort of people as they knew they were not obtaining mortgages.

Coveney said the Government is not going to allow the same situation which happened during the boom to happen again, where first-time buyers were allowed borrow “ridiculous amounts of money”.

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