Justice Minister refuses to rule out leadership heave against Enda Kenny
Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Reporter
Fine Gael Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has refused to say if Taoiseach Enda Kenny is facing a leadership challenge after what seems likely to be a disastrous election result.
The senior cabinet member, who has long been rumoured as a potential future leader of her party, declined three times to rule out the prospect after she was elected on the first count in her own area.
Speaking at the Dublin Mid West count in the City West Hotel, Ms Fitzgerald admitted today has been a bad day for the Fine Gael party.
Frances Fitzgerald refuses to answer questions about possible leadership heave pic.twitter.com/NXk5Ceu7Bg— Kevin Purcell (@Kevin_UTV) February 27, 2016
However, during a short media doorstep directly after her election, she failed three times to specifically rule out any leadership contest against Mr Kenny - who is facing the growing prospect of an internal heave against him by one of a number of Fine Gael factions.
Asked if it is now inevitable Mr Kenny will face a leadership contest regardless of whether his party remains in office, Ms Fitzgerald told the Irish Examiner: "Today I'm concentrating on the results coming in, there's many colleagues around the country who've worked extremely hard over the last five years and many of them are still waiting for their results.
"Right now we're waiting to see what the constituencies are, that's the focus.
"There's going to be a lot of time [afterwards] for analysis and reflection."
Asked again if a leadership contest is on the horizon, she said: "The Taoiseach has done an extraordinary job for this country, he's rescued this country.
"We've sent the IMF and the Troika away and we're now in a position where we have the resources to invest in the kind of services the public want to see."
As she moved through the crowd of reporters, Ms Fitzgerald was asked if she is interested in making a bid for replacing Mr Kenny and leading the party herself.
However, she said: "I've nothing further to add."
The Justice Minister has long been rumoured to be one of three legitimate potential party rivals to Mr Kenny, with Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney - both of whom were part of a failed heave in 2010 - also rumoured to have long-held ambitions to take over.
While all three have never publicly said they want to replace Mr Kenny, it is widely expected that one or all may make a bid for power if the party's election is as bad as currently predicted.