Belfast Telegraph

Coveney warns against trying to force Taoiseach out

One of the favourite's to take over from Taoiseach Enda Kenny has warned against trying to force the leader out.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney, tipped along with Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar to run for the Fine Gael leadership, said ousting Mr Kenny would be wrong.

" I think there's an acceptance that, look, there's going to a leadership contest and that's not some far point in the future," Mr Coveney said.

He added: "I also think there's huge respect and trust in Enda Kenny that he is the person who decides when that happens."

Mr Coveney spoke out after Fine Gael backbencher Alan Farrell broke ranks to demand Mr Kenny stand down as leader of Fine Gael, clearing the way for a new taoiseach to be elected in the Dail.

Mr Farrell said the Taoiseach's position was untenable.

"Unfortunately, I no longer have confidence in the ability of Enda Kenny TD to lead Fine Gael," Mr Farrell said.

Mr Kenny had committed last year to stepping down as Taoiseach before the next election.

He has been in the job for almost six years after leading Fine Gael since 2002 and taking the party to a landmark victory in 2011 and a second election success in a row in early 2016.

But questions over his future circulated this week amid criticism over his handling of allegations of corruption in policing and his minority coalition Government being forced to launch a public tribunal into the treatment of whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe by senior gardai.

Mr Coveney added: "I don't think people should confuse what has been a difficult week for the Government with an imminent challenge to Enda Kenny's leadership in Fine Gael.

"That's certainly not how I'm approaching things. I think I've been very clear with all of my colleagues in terms of my views on that."

Amid speculation that the political fallout might culminate next week in a vote of no confidence in Mr Kenny by his colleagues, Mr Varadkar struck a similar chord to Mr Coveney on Thursday.

He said the Taoiseach will know when the time is right to step aside.

One other cabinet member who has been mentioned as a potential leadership candidate, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe, ruled himself out of any contest.

Focus will now switch on the potential duration of a Fine Gael leadership election and whether Mr Kenny is willing to set a date for his departure and if colleagues will give him time to attend the traditional St Patrick's Day celebrations in the White House.

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