Tentative moves among ambitious politicians are underway to succeed two party leaders preparing to ease out of power -- one willingly, the other reluctantly.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told a party think-in in Co. Meath he will step down as part of the party’s 10-year transition plan, and he hinted that a woman might take over.
Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the first leader to return the party to successive terms in government, is more reluctant to go, but some backbenchers want to see him set a timeline sooner rather than later for his departure.
There was speculation at his Fine Gael pre-Dail meeting in Co. Kildare last week that Kenny might go in May, a year after the fragile minority government he leads was agreed. But he told his party his “mojo” was back and he was not walking away from the mandate he was given to implement “a very complicated, very difficult and very challenging agenda.”
Adams was also not setting a time for his departure, but he was prepared to hint that the date was already planned although he wasn’t going to reveal it.
He said the plan for electoral success over the next decade will see a change of leadership.
“It isn’t question of if I will step down, it’s a question of when I step down and we have a plan,” he said.
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness also confirmed that he would step down as part of the transition to a new leadership over the coming years. He did not say when, but he left open the possibility that it might occur around the same time as Adams will go.
Adams, who has led Sinn Fein since 1983, is 67. McGuinness, deputy first minister of Northern Ireland since 2007, is 66.
The two most likely candidates to succeed Adams are party vice president Mary Lou McDonald and the party’s spokesperson on finance in the Dail, Pearse Doherty.
Adams has hinted a woman could be his successor. “People within the party are quite entitled to discuss this issue. I am not precious about it,” he said.
“I have found it a great honor to serve Sinn Fein in any capacity whatsoever. And I have every confidence in that whole cadre of activists in that blend of experience of youthful energy of being right across the entire island of Ireland, of having women as is right in positions of leadership.”
Leo Varadkar, minister for social protection and one of the likely contenders for Fine Gael leadership, said that of course Fine Gael has to plan for the future.
But he gave little away about his intentions when he added, “I think it’s important that we all support the taoiseach. He has to concentrate on government and on his job. He can’t be distracted by internal party matters.”
Another leading contender, Housing Minister Simon Coveney, said recently that the leadership of Fine Gael would be discussed in the “not too distant future” but that now was not the time.