SUPPORTERS of Simon Coveney are gearing up for a leadership battle against Leo Varadkar as the Maurice McCabe controversy continues to erode Enda Kenny's position as Taoiseach.
Mr Kenny TD led his party to defeat a vote of no confidence last night arising out of the whistleblower controversy.
But Fine Gael insiders believe a leadership battle and an election could be just weeks away, with support for Simon Coveney expected to be high in his Cork base but also throughout Munster.
The Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Des Cahill, said today the release of the report into Irish Water at the end of March could be the key factor in when a leadership battle and election are held.
He said: “As a political observer, I cannot see a position where the leadership and an election are not the same thing. For that reason, I don’t see it happening in the summer – it will be either pre-summer or post-summer. But the release of the water report at the end of March could be the trigger for something pre-summer.”
However, a meeting is expected to take place next week where Fine Gael ministers will express their concerns about the leadership, meaning a leadership battle could be sooner rather than later.
Sources said today that any change in the leadership would be seized on immediately by Fianna Fail as the opportunity to pull the plug on their support for the minority government, which is in its most difficult position since last year’s election.
But today, Fine Gael’s Senator Colm Burke said while an election is likely before the end of the year, it is not likely immediately.
And he said: “The Taoiseach has given a clear indication that he will not lead into the next election but it is for him to decide on when he will no longer lead.”