Thursday 22 February 2018

Varadkar steals march on rivals as contest to succeed Kenny begins

Chief Whip Regina Doherty Photo: Tom Burke
Chief Whip Regina Doherty Photo: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor and Sarah Collins

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has emerged as the clear frontrunner in the race to succeed Enda Kenny as Taoiseach - a contest that will be decided predominantly by Fine Gael TDs.

Mr Varadkar has got a head start on his nearest rivals Housing Minister Simon Coveney and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald by constantly phoning colleagues to discuss their concerns, as well as entertaining fellow TDs on nights out.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Steve Humphreys
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Steve Humphreys

A lunchtime statement by the Dublin West TD yesterday also went down well among backbenchers, as it called for calm heads in relation to the upcoming leadership process.

Read more: 'Damaged' Enda Kenny expected to step down by the spring

"The Taoiseach has made clear he will not lead the party in a future general election. This means there will be a leadership election at a future date. That will be the appropriate time to deal with the issue of the leadership of Fine Gael. The vacancy won't arise until the Taoiseach decides it should."

The statement was released hours after Chief Whip Regina Doherty told 'The Michael Reade Show' on LMFM that Mr Kenny should clarify his intentions, in order to avoid further confusion.

"Unless there's clarification of the process laid out, there will be confusion. Otherwise you're going to have me and the other 49 members of Fine Gael telling you something different until it is clarified," she said. "It would be fair if the Taoiseach clarified this so we could get back to normal."

Bizarrely, Ms Doherty gave the interview while the Dáil faced being abandoned because there were not enough TDs present. Ms Doherty's job as Chief Whip is to ensure that there is a quorum of 20 TDs.

Read more: It has been a bad week for Taoiseach and backbenchers are getting restless

She is understood to have infuriated Fine Gael bosses with her failure to ensure deputies were present.

The Irish Independent understands Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl was prepared to suspend the Dáil had a quorum not been reached in four minutes.

Meanwhile, it is now widely accepted within the party that Mr Kenny will spell out his departure plan after the Budget, with a contest expected to conclude as early as the spring. However, no candidates are prepared to launch a heave.

Mr Kenny is not due to speak on the matter until Tuesday at the earliest, when he travels to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Other contenders also released statements on the issue yesterday. Ms Fitzgerald said the issue of a vacancy was a matter for Mr Kenny - but did not rule herself out of contention.

Read more: Party leaves battered Kenny in no doubt that his authority is vanishing - and fast

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Coveney said: "There isn't a leadership contest in Fine Gael right now, there isn't going to be any time soon."

Asked if Mr Kenny would make it past the Budget, he replied: "I think Enda Kenny's going to be around for some time yet."

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Health Minister Simon Harris have also been linked to the job of Taoiseach.

But Mr Donohoe has released a statement insisting Mr Kenny has his full support.

"We are making real progress in ensuring continued economic growth and in dealing with the challenges our country faces," he said.

Talk of leadership of the Party is a distraction from the vital work of Government. As Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, I am fully focussed on making sensible choices with the taxpayers’ money.”

Irish Independent

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