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Early surge in favour of Leo

Donohoe will back Varadkar

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All smiles: Leo Varadkar is in pole position in the race to succeed Enda Kenny Picture: Frank McGrath

All smiles: Leo Varadkar is in pole position in the race to succeed Enda Kenny Picture: Frank McGrath

All smiles: Leo Varadkar is in pole position in the race to succeed Enda Kenny Picture: Frank McGrath

The Fine Gael leadership contest is Leo Varadkar's to lose after a flood of endorsements gave him a clear lead over rival Simon Coveney.

Mr Varadkar went to ground yesterday, opting to send out a string of ministers, TDs and senators in a series of choreographed media appearances.

Three Cabinet ministers, including Richard Bruton, have publicly backed his bid and the Irish Independent understands Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe will follow suit today.

Mr Coveney was the first out of the traps, insisting people are not looking for a "Taoiseach with X-Factor". And in a veiled attack on Mr Varadkar last night, Mr Coveney appeared to compare his rival to Donald Trump. "The US voted for someone with the X-Factor and look how that turned out," he said.

It came as Finance Minister Michael Noonan has announced he will retire.

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