It has finally happened. Today, at a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach of Ireland, announced that he would resign as the leader of his party. This ends over a year of speculation as to the timing of his departure, following his party's poor showing in the general election of 2016. The battle to succeed Mr Kenny as leader of Fine Gael, and also (almost certainly), as Taoiseach, will now begin in earnest. Here are the three next major events to look out for over the coming weeks.
1. Enda's Legacy
This departure was certainly not unexpected and the media outlets have moved with lightening speed to release their take on the soon-to-be retired Taoiseach. Enda Kenny has been a member of the Irish parliament since 1975, when he took his seat after his father passed away. He went from being the youngest member of the Daíl at that time to being the oldest when, in 2011, he finally became Taoiseach after being the leader of the opposition for nine years.
Many within Fine Gael will credit him for saving the party from ruin in 2002, when he took the top position after they suffered a terrible election defeat. He will also be judged on the handling of the huge financial crash that he inherited when he entered government in 2011.
Some will say he steered Ireland back from the brink of financial ruin, stopping it from falling into a much deeper depression than what seemed inevitable at the time. Others will criticize him for imposing unfair austerity measures on the general working population, while simultaneously bailing out the failed banks that got the country into the crisis in the first instance. Either way, the final paragraphs of his Irish political career are now being written.
2. The Leadership Contest
A very brief moment of silence will endure for today and perhaps tomorrow before the frantic and fraught battle to replace Enda will begin. Even before the Taoiseach had announced his departure, the entire nation and their dogs knew who the two main contenders will be.
Leo Varadkar has been member of the government since 2011, rotating between heading the departments of Transport, Health and Social Protection. He is well known for being outspoken and sometimes this leads to him making poorly timed or controversial remarks. Many see him as representing the right-wing of Fine Gael, favoring more freer markets and less government intervention. He is also from Dublin, and openly gay, both of which may stand against him in the eyes of the rural or older party members who will be voting on the next leader.
Simon Coveney is the other main contender in the race. A native of Cork, he comes from a family that has deep roots within the party, and he took his seat in the Daíl after his father died suddenly in 1998. Serving some time in the European Parliament, he returned to Ireland and joined Enda's government of 2011 and has served as minister for Agriculture, Defense and Housing. Many compliment Coveney on his work ethic and see him as perhaps as more reliably predictable than his rival.
Other contenders may emerge in the coming days. Richard Bruton may wish to overcome his failed attempt to oust Enda Kenny in 2010 (which it should be noted, both Coveney and Varakar supported) and Francis Fitzgerald may also wish to through herself into the fray.
3. The New Taoiseach's Government
It has been mentioned before on this podcast that the present coalition arrangement is not something that has ever been seen before in Irish governance. Fine Gael are in a coalition with a number of independent TDs, but they are also supported from the opposition benches by the largest non-government party, Fianna Fail. While the change in leadership is certainly a surprise to no one, there is possibility that one of these parties may take this as an opportunity to change the present arrangement. This is something that Enda's replacment will need to ensure is sorted before they can be voted in as Taoiseach by the Daíl in mid-June.