Taoiseach to deal with leadership "shortly" after St Patrick's Day

Enda Kenny made a relatively short speech at a gathering of the Fine Gael parliamentary party behind closed doors in Leinster House this evening

The Taoiseach has told the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party he will deal with the issue of his leadership "shortly" after St. Patrick's Day.

Enda Kenny made a relatively short speech at a gathering behind closed doors in Leinster House this evening.

He stated that he wanted to go to the White House on St Patrick's Day and would deal with the issue of his leadership shortly after his meeting with the US President Donald Trump.

He said he would deal with the issue effectively and conclusively upon his return, but gave no further details.

As expected, he provided no specific date for his departure - however, he appears to have fought off any immediate motion of no confidence.

He told the gathering he had already said he wouldn't lead the party into the next election and was not afraid of no confidence motions.

Mr Kenny noted that very few people had the experience he had for the job. 

He was given a round of applause after his speech and when other speakers were asked for, no-one came forward. 

There was no further debate on the leadership.

The leadership issue - and the subsequent race for the office of Taoiseach - has been the subject of much speculation in recent weeks - however it now appears Mr Kenny could remain in place until the end of April.

The Fine Gael leadership election will take up to 20 days after Mr Kenny officially announces his intentions.

The expected timetable will also see Mr Kenny remain in place for the crunch meeting of the European Council on March 9th and 10th - when British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to officially trigger the Brexit process.

Conflicting reports have indicated that Mrs May could yet hold off on triggering the process till later in the month - however it now appears Mr Kenny will still be in place should she choose to do so.

Should he remain in place until the end of April he will become the longest serving Fine Gael Taoiseach - overtaking John A Costello on April 20th.

Both of the leading candidates to replace the Taoiseach - Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister, Simon Coveney - have indicated an unwillingness to push Mr Kenny before he decides on a date for departure himself.

Late last week Minister Varadkar said Mr Kenny had been a “fantastic leader” of the party for 15 years adding that he has “absolutely every confidence that he’ll know when the right time is, for himself and for the party.”

Yesterday Minister Coveney said he trusts the Taoiseach will put in place a process that can allow for an orderly and well managed transition - “presumably after St Patrick’s Day.”

A number of other Fine Gael personalities - including the Health Minister Simon Harris, the Education Minister Richard Bruton and the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald - have yet to rule themselves out of the race.