Enda Kenny: Questions being asked about Irish premier's future in office

Enda Kenny Image copyright AFP
Image caption Enda Kenny was re-elected as the Irish prime minister in May, 70 days after a general election which had produced no outright winner

It has not been a good week for the taoiseach (Irish prime minister), Enda Kenny, and questions are now being openly asked by his own TDs about how long he will remain in office.

First there was his statement that the Irish government was considering setting up an all-island forum to discuss the implications of the Brexit vote in advance of a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council.

But he had to step back from that once the Northern Ireland First Minister and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader, Arlene Foster, said she had not been consulted in advance and saw no need for such a new body.

Then there was the decision by three Independent Irish government ministers to vote in favour of a bill - it was defeated - to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and in so doing ignore the advice of the Republic of Ireland's Attorney General about the constitutionality of the measure.

Many have criticised the Independent ministers of also ignoring the doctrine of collective cabinet responsibility and setting a bad precedent despite the "new politics" associated with the minority government, which is dependent on the support of the main opposition party, Fianna Fáil, in votes of confidence and on financial matters.

And after that, there was the re-appointment of the former Children's Minister, Dr James Reilly, who lost his seat in the general election, as the party's deputy leader - much to the surprise of most of the Fine Gael parliamentary party.

Mr Kenny had already indicated before the current Fine Gael minority government was formed at the beginning of May that he would not lead his party into the next election but said he would serve a full term as taoiseach.

This week, for the first time in years, his leadership was raised at Fine Gael's parliamentary party by a former junior minister, Fergus O'Dowd.

Image copyright PA
Image caption An opinion poll in the Irish Times suggested that the public's choice to replace Mr Kenny is Leo Varadkar

The following day another TD, Jim Daly, told the Republic of Ireland's national broadcaster RTÉ that he expected Mr Kenny to go after the budget due in the autumn, but which will not be fully enacted until the spring.

Since then a number of Fine Gael TDs and ministers have privately told journalists that they too expect a new leader early next year.

'Ticking clock'

An opinion poll in the Irish Times has suggested that the public's choice to replace Mr Kenny is Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Social Protection, ahead of Simon Coveney, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.

But Mr Kenny's supporters have been saying that with the Brexit vote, now is not the time to change leader.

They say that he has a close relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who he will meet in Berlin next week, which should be used to protect Ireland's interests north and south.

Others counter that this relationship has not yet led to the promised "game changer" and European re-capitalisation of Irish banks.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Enda Kenny is due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel next week

Whatever the truth of either claim it seems unlikely Enda Kenny will be taoiseach by the time the Brexit negotiations have concluded.

The sound of the ticking clock on his premiership is a lot louder this week than it was even a week ago.

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