Flannery: It's a four-horse race to replace Enda as leader of FG
The elevation of Paschal Donohoe to a finance department puts him on an "upward trajectory" and means the battle to succeed Enda Kenny as Fine Gael leader is now a "four-horse race", veteran party strategist Frank Flannery has said.
Assessing the leadership contenders Donohoe, Simon Coveney, Leo Varadkar and Frances Fitzgerald, Mr Flannery said: "They're all able people, so if you like it was a three-horse race. Maybe it's a four-horse race."
But he pointed out that Mr Kenny may not be going anywhere for a while.
The former Fine Gael guru hasn't been involved in the government formation talks.
His view that there should have been a grand coalition or partnership with Fianna Fáil was his only contribution to the debate.
He now describes the minority arrangement reached with Micheál Martin's party as "quite creative", adding "I don't see it collapsing quickly" - explaining that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Independents are heavily invested in it.
With a deal to deliver three Budgets, he predicts: "It obviously has a good chance of going into 2018."
According to Mr Flannery: "For the country I think it was probably the best deal that was available," short of the Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil deal he had been advocating.
Casting his eye over a Cabinet filled with potential future Fine Gael leaders, Mr Flannery said: "You can see people like Paschal Donohoe there on a good upward trajectory - bear in mind he's a very able man."
He praised Mr Donohoe's handling of the complicated IAG purchase of Aer Lingus while he was Transport Minister, but warned his new portfolio - Public Expenditure and Reform - "is not a pleasant job".
"That's the department that says no all of the time," he added. Of Mr Coveney's new role at Housing and Local Government, Mr Flannery said "he'll be well up for that".
It's his task to deal with the housing and homelessness crisis as well as the divisive issue of water charges.
Put to Mr Flannery that the portfolio is a potential minefield, but could be a springboard to the leadership if he delivers in these areas, he replied that it "depends how he gets on".
Social Protection for Leo Varadkar is "very interesting", he said.
"It's a huge spending one and it also has an awful lot to do with the quality of life of ordinary Irish citizens.
"I'd say a big part of him will be really looking forward to Social Protection."
He said Frances Fitzgerald being promoted to Tánaiste and staying in Justice marks her as "very much the senior person in many ways".
In terms of their leadership ambitions, what matters is that "they're all there," he added. But he questioned when any succession might happen, saying that Mr Kenny "will certainly bed in for the first year anyway and will try and get things going on a solid basis and he should do that."
Mr Flannery said: "It'll need a steadying hand. He [Mr Kenny] has played a very good card in putting it together and he's very good at that."
He says that the important issue at the next election won't be who the leader is, rather that it will be fought "on the standing of the Fine Gael party, the Independents and Fianna Fáil, their standing when they hit the polls the next time and what story they have to tell".
And he says while the electorate may well choose a more conventional coalition next time: "you never know - if this is successful, they might get to like this model as well."