Sunday 11 December 2016

Tanaiste prepares to up the ante in bid to succeed Kenny as FG leader

Fitzgerald will set out her vision for the party as Fine Gael prepares for Kenny's departure

Published 02/10/2016 | 02:30

Lady-in-waiting: Key adviser says Frances Fitzgerald won't do anything that is seen as disloyal to Enda Kenny Photo: Tom Burke
Lady-in-waiting: Key adviser says Frances Fitzgerald won't do anything that is seen as disloyal to Enda Kenny Photo: Tom Burke

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald will begin a major push to shore up support among Fine Gael members ahead of a future leadership battle following the Budget.

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Ms Fitzgerald's supporters insist she is still interested in becoming the next Fine Gael leader and intends on mounting a serious challenge to Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney.

A source very close to the Tanaiste yesterday confirmed she is prepared to take on her two Cabinet colleagues when Taoiseach Enda Kenny eventually steps down.

"Clearly, she has very strong views on the challenges facing the country and she is very well positioned to know those issues from her background and the portfolios she held," the source said.

The Justice Minister will not move on the Taoiseach to force his resignation and remains loyal to the party leader, but she will begin setting out her vision for the party and the county in the coming months.

"She won't do anything that is seen as disloyal but you will see a lot more of her and a lot more from her from between now and Christmas," one of the Tanaiste's key advisers said last week.

"You will see an attempt to find more opportunities for her to outline her views and vision a bit more," the source added.

Ms Fitzgerald's advisers are eager to ensure she is not left behind in the leadership race after a series of opinion polls showed the gap widening between the Tanaiste and the two frontrunners.

A source in the Tanaiste's camp insisted her campaign style will differ greatly from the strategies used by Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney but she will seek to win over colleagues.

"Will she bring people to the races? No," a source said.

"Leo's running around the place doing all that and that's fine but Theresa May (recently appointed UK prime minister) did not bring people to the races," a source said.

Ms Fitzgerald's supporters point to a recent speech by the Tanaiste at the Kennedy Summer School in Wexford in which she strayed from her justice brief to discuss the economy and set out her vision for a "fair and compassionate society".

"The speech was an attempt to talk about things wider than justice," a source said. It was also noted that she attended the Ploughing Championship in Tullamore, Co Offaly, and the Electric Picnic music festival in Stradbally, Co Laois, for the first time this year.

"A big deal is made when Leo goes to these events, but it was the first-time the Tanaiste went, too," a source said.

A senior minister close to the Tanaiste said Ms Fitzgerald would be the most likely candidate to win over the support of her Cabinet colleagues.

"If you go around the Cabinet table and ask who is going to build an alliance of ministerial support, the answer is Frances," the minister said.

"Can you name one Cabinet minister who would vote for Leo Varadkar apart from Leo Varadkar?"

Mr Varadkar, however, is still the frontrunner, according to opinion polls.

Sunday Independent

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