DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland’s minority government on Wednesday survived a parliamentary vote of no-confidence over its handling of a policing scandal, but Prime Minister Enda Kenny faced growing calls from members of his own party to step aside.
Parliament voted 57-52 in favor of the government, with the 44 members of the country’s second largest party, Fianna Fail, abstaining. Independent members of the governing coalition only confirmed their support an hour before the debate in parliament.
Kenny, who was heavily criticized after a poor showing by his Fine Gael party in an election a year ago, has said he does not intend to lead the party into the next election.
He has not said when he will step aside and at least six members of the party have in recent months called for Kenny to step down sooner rather than later to give a new leader time to establish a position before a new election.
Those calls have gathered pace since Kenny’s Fine Gael support fell to 21 percent in an opinion poll last week, 11 points behind fellow centrist party Fianna Fail - by far the biggest margin of any recent polling.
Fine Gael member of parliament John Paul Phelan on Wednesday was the first to suggest a concrete timetable, saying Kenny should be replaced “within six to eight weeks.”
“There should be a new leader of Fine Gael in the near future because I do think that we will probably have another general election in the near future,” he told local radio station KCLR Live.
“This week has shown that the government is in a precarious position,” he said.
Several commentators have suggested Kenny may make his plans clear after a visit to Washington to mark St. Patrick’s Day on March 17.
The third largest party, Sinn Fein, announced on Saturday it would introduce a motion of no confidence over the manner in which the government had handled allegations by members of parliament that the chief and former chief of police had orchestrated a campaign to damage the reputation of a high-profile whistleblower.
The government agreed on Wednesday to establish a publicly led inquiry into the allegations, which will include the examination of police commissioner Noirin O‘Sullivan’s mobile phone records. She has faced calls from some opposition parties to stand down.
The government has said it will widen the terms to include potential collusion between police and the state’s child protection agency over a clerical error at the agency that led to false sex abuse allegations being made against the whistleblower.
Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Peter Cooney