Why Irish Premier’s St. Patrick’s Day visit to Trump is seen as crucial

US trip for Ireland’s Taoiseach is crucial: Fine Gael Chair

Ireland's prime minister deftly deflected a leadership challenge on Wednesday night, insisting that he will not discuss a timetable for transition to a new leader before his visit to President Donald Trump next month is completed.

The resurfacing of an ugly, decade-old scandal which concerns a cover-up of corrupt policing and which has dragged Enda Kenny, Ireland's premier for the past six years, once again into its depths, led to a widespread expectation that Wednesday's private party meeting would be the scene of Kenny's announcement of his retirement plans.

Yet not a single rebel challenged his unequivocal stance that the issue of party leadership would be off the table until after his annual trip to Washington D.C.

No doubt Brexit is a challenge: Fine Gael Chair

"This trip is crucial," Martin Heydon, chairman of Ireland's governing party, Fine Gael, told CNBC in Dublin on Thursday.

"We'll be actively seeking to engage with business leaders to sell the story of what Ireland has to offer and to particularly sell the message that Ireland is very much open for business despite Brexit and all of the threats that that brings around," he added, noting that the government had very much hoped that the U.K. had voted to remain within the European Union (EU) in last year's historic vote.

The St. Patrick's Day trip has caused some controversy in Ireland, with many in the media and broader public claiming that it should have been cancelled in defiant response to President Trump's notorious travel ban targeted against muslims from certain countries.

We’re very confident we have a huge pool of talent: Fine Gael Chair

Indeed, although Kenny himself said he disagreed with the ban, Heydon explained that the traditional visit is a critical time for Ireland's ruler to put forth a case for both the country and the EU. Particularly given some of the "negative sentiment", President Trump had articulated in the past, the chairman added.

"The idea that the leader of our country would pass up on that opportunity to me is ridiculous. It's more important now than ever that we keep dialogue open," Heydon affirmed.

Turning back to Brexit, the Fine Gael official admitted that it was undoubtedly a challenge and that his party saw it as in both its interests and intention to try to make sure the U.K. maintains as close a relationship with the EU following its exit.

Louisa Gouliamaki | AFP | Getty Images

"At the same time, we are one of 27 European Union countries, we will negotiate as a part of the European Union. Ireland's place is at the heart of Europe - we in the Fine Gael party are adamant about that," he clarified, leaving no doubt as to which side Ireland would stand on should the negotiations become - as Kenny himself recently warned - "quite vicious".

Addressing recent polls that show a surge in popularity for the leading opposition party, Fianna Fail, Heydon sounded a measured note.

"Polls are a snapshot in time…When you're in government you don't expect to be popular all the time. We are very confident that we have a huge pool of talent within our party," he began.

"While the polls show Fianna Fail are in front, that's only an issue if there's an election and there's no election on the horizon," the chairman added.

Kenny's impressive performance on Wednesday evening has, by all appearances, successfully secured a mood of calm and stability within the party from now until late March.

All bets seem to be off, however, as to what will unfold once the prime minister returns from his trip to the White House.

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