Monday 18 December 2017

Varadkar to strip FG HQ of powers over selection of party candidates

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar TD Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar TD Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar will strip Fine Gael headquarters of powers in relation to candidate selection if he succeeds Enda Kenny as taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar believes party bosses have too much influence in relation to selection conventions, according to senior sources involved in his leadership campaign.

Any move to dilute Fine Gael headquarters of some of its control is likely to put Mr Varadkar on a collision course with the party's general secretary Tom Curran.

However, the pledge to overhaul the structures within the party will attract significant support among members as the campaign to succeed Mr Kenny steps up a gear.

There were several instances prior to the General Election which saw Fine Gael headquarters issue diktats in relation to candidate selection.

A number of candidates were also imposed on constituencies in order to ensure Fine Gael met its obligations under the strict gender quota rules.

In relation to Mr Varadkar's plans, a senior source in his campaign team said the minister believes there is "too much central control" within Fine Gael and he will pledge to ensure all conventions are fair.

The leadership issue continued to dominate discussions among TDs in Leinster House yesterday.

However, it is unclear whether Mr Kenny will spell out his intentions at tonight's parliamentary party meeting.

Both Mr Varadkar and his main rival Simon Coveney are planning further visits across the country in the coming days in a bid to drum up support.

Mr Varadkar is to visit Donegal on Friday, while Mr Coveney is planning to meet councillors and supporters in Galway.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar yesterday backed the Taoiseach in his decision last week in Canada to dodge questions on when he intends to step aside.

Mr Varadkar said domestic issues such as the Fine Gael leadership should not be raised on such overseas visits.

"I also think that ministers shouldn't be asked about it domestically because we always get asked about it whether we raise it as an issue or not," Mr Varadkar said.

"I think when somebody's representing the country abroad, particularly when the prime minister of another country or the president of the country is standing beside them, I think that as a country we shouldn't be trying to embarrass them. We should be asking questions relevant to their visit," he said.

Mr Varadkar said that separate media opportunities can be arranged for domestic issues.

It was put to him that polls have shown him ahead of Mr Coveney in the race to succeed Mr Kenny, and that this suggests he has momentum.

"I'll answer that when the vacancy arises if that's okay," he said.

He added: "The polls are encouraging... but they're only polls and there isn't a vacancy yet."

The news came as Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe declined to be drawn on an Irish Independent report that said he will back Mr Varadkar over Mr Coveney.

Sources in both the Varadkar and Coveney camp have conceded Mr Donohoe will eventually lend his support to his Dublin colleague.

Asked about his intentions at a media briefing at Government Buildings yesterday, Mr Donohoe replied: "I'm anything but a kingmaker."

The Dublin Central TD added: "I will be deciding myself what I'm going to do at a point in the future.

"And when I've done that I'll be delighted to bring all the speculation to an end and inform you all what I'm doing."

Irish Independent

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