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Enda Kenny has quelled the fire for now, but leader hopefuls are putting their best foot forward

The minute the Taoiseach spoke openly about heading off into the Castlebar sunset, it opened up the conversation about who will take over.

THEY SAY ONE week is a long time in politics so a four-week summer recess is a lifetime.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will welcome the Dáil break as it will give him time to slow down and reposition himself as party leader.

In recent weeks, there’s been talk of ministers nipping at his heels for the top job in Fine Gael. All deny that this is the case, but soundings around Leinster House are that the frontrunners are putting their best foot forward as part of a long, informal audition process.

Whether it was a smart move or not, Kenny has already put it on the record that he wants to see out this full term but it is not his intention to lead the party into the next general election.

May meets Kenny Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Perhaps Kenny should have taken a play from Gerry Adams’s book: the Sinn Féin president has said he is not as foolish as the Taoiseach by setting a date for his own demise.

He has a point. The minute the Taoiseach spoke openly about heading off into the Castlebar sunset, it opened up the conversation about who will take over.

The party’s chief whip Regina Doherty didn’t help matters either by openly speaking on the airwaves about matters needing to be clarified earlier this summer (she quickly backtracked but much of the damage was done).

Backbench TDs started calling for Kenny to stand aside straight away. Although they were in a minority, it set off a media storm. It was talked about at the party’s parliamentary meeting where Kenny said he would meet with any TD, individually, to discuss their concerns.

That move seems to have quelled the fire, for now.

However, many in the party still want a plan in place so they are not caught on the hop if there happens to be a snap general election.

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There have been many names bandied around in the past as Enda’s possible successors: Frances Fitzgerald, Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney, Paschal Donohoe, Simon Harris and Richard Bruton.

However, it is Varakar and Coveney that have really been upping their game lately.

Best foot forward

Since all this talk about Enda’s expiry date, the pair have been rolling out key initiatives in their respective departments, hoping they will be seen as positive changemakers.

Varadkar has launched a new welfare scheme for small loans for people, revealed plans to rise dole payments for those that are newly unemployed and also thrown his political weight behind indexing welfare payments to inflation.

The move that raised most eyebrows though was Varadkar’s plans to give Ireland’s local councillors two options to improve the terms under which they pay tax.

He expressed sympathy for the situation local representatives find themselves in and said he was reforming the system in the interest of fairness.


Varadkar denied that it anything to do with a bid for the leadership of Fine Gael, which will require the support of councillors.

He said it was just one part of wider reform plans, and he is working on proposals to introduce unemployment benefit for the self-employed.

The Social Protection Minister believes now that no matter what he says or does, it is being linked to the leadership. And perhaps he is right. The minute Kenny said he would be stepping down before the election, it made people look at some ministers in a new light.

So, does he have public support?

In February, the Claire Byrne Live/Amárach Research poll for found that nearly half of people think that Leo Varadkar would be a better leader of Fine Gael than Enda Kenny.

But does he want to be leader? We asked him back in 2014 and he said “personal ambition” was the last thing on his mind.

Two years and a stint in the Department of Health on, have his ambitions been dialled up?


Environment Minister Simon Coveney is not one to be ruled out though. Currently, he’s taking on two of Ireland’s most contentious issues – housing and Irish Water.

Sources speculate this could have been a smart move by Enda Kenny to keep Coveney busy, while others think it is a good portfolio for Coveney to show off the skills he has to be leader. If he makes good strides in housing, it could prove him capable.

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He hit the ground running and just before the summer recess – to much fanfare and a packed out government press centre – he announced the government’s action plan on housing.

It’s been described by some in the opposition benches as a bold plan. Coveney has given himself tight deadlines to get his policies through – he has one year to get all families out of emergency accommodation. Otherwise, he fails.

He has hung his reputation on the plan, stating it is his responsibility to deliver on those promises and if he can’t, he will bear the consequences.

Irish general election Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Coveney’s supporters say he put his previous portfolio on the map, bringing agricultural issues to prominence in the EU. They also credit him with the decision to send troops to help migrants in the Mediterranean.

Thoughts on who will take over within the party are mixed.

Some say Coveney is the solid choice. He’s calm, serious and appears to be getting on with the job at hand. However, polls have shown the public might give Varadkar the edge.

Will the party go with the popular vote, though?

Some say he might be a liability to Fine Gael, with one member citing how Varadkar took to the airwaves to say Fianna Fáil’s focus on water during government formation talks was “surreal” and ”ridiculous”.

The timing of the comments was described as “deeply unhelpful”, especially when both parties were so close to a deal.

A two-horse race?

While the frontrunners seem to be gearing themselves up, it’s unlikely either of them will lead a coup. The failed 2010 heave against Kenny will be on their minds, despite its instigator Richard Bruton no longer feeling the sting from it.

Nobody wants to be the man to push Enda. If he says he’s not budging until he’s good and ready, they might just leave him where he is.

Especially as next term’s Oireachtas agenda includes dealing with such issues as Irish Water and abortion.

‘Not much of a f***ing ambush’: An oral history of the 2010 heave against Enda Kenny

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