'Kingmaker' Donohoe to back Varadkar as FG leadership race heats up
Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe is set to back Leo Varadkar in the Fine Gael leadership race, insiders believe.
Sources close to Simon Coveney have admitted they no longer think they can secure the backing of Mr Donohoe, whose vote will be seen as very influential.
"Let's just say he's not in our column," a well-placed source told the Irish Independent.
Several senior figures within the party were keen for Mr Donohoe to put his name forward as a potential successor to Enda Kenny, but he has consistently ruled himself out.
As a result, he is being talked about as a 'kingmaker' in the process and his support would be a major boost for Mr Varadkar.
"Paschal is a Dublin TD and he knows Leo going back years. They were on Dublin councils at similar times. We aren't counting on getting his endorsement," a Coveney source conceded.
Both sides are in the process of lining up "big hitters" that can be unveiled in the days after the Taoiseach finally announces his plans for stepping down.
Both ministers are understood to be operating on the assumption that Mr Kenny will clarify his intentions at a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party within the next fortnight.
TDs and senators will hold their regular meeting in Leinster House tomorrow evening but it is unlikely Mr Kenny will address the issue.
On Thursday morning, he will open a European People's Party conference in Druid's Glen which will be attended by the EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and former British prime minister Tony Blair. The following day, he will welcome Britain's Prince Charles to Government Buildings.
Behind the scenes, campaigning by both Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar has stepped up dramatically in the past week. Both sides are understood to be courting senior TDs who could be seen as 'influencers'.
Mr Varadkar is also hopeful of gaining the support of Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, but she has yet to rule out entering the race herself. Education Minister Richard Bruton is also keeping his cards close to his chest.
It is widely expected that Health Minister Simon Harris will play a key role in Mr Coveney's campaign. He is understood to have attended a number of strategy meetings with the Housing Minister.
When asked about the meeting yesterday, Mr Harris responded: "As Minister Coveney says, we talk to colleagues often about important issues to do with the future of the party and the future of the country. I'm very busy with the health portfolio at the moment."
He refused to say which candidate he will back but promised to make his intentions clear once the Taoiseach outlines his plans - and told the Irish Independent his colleagues should do likewise.
"I think it's important at that stage that people put their cards on the table. I think your voters have a right to know, your supporters in your constituency have a right to know," he said.