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Leo finally makes an appearance on the campaign trail, as two more ministers declare support

Varadkar held an event on Leo Street in Dublin 7, alongside Paschal Donohoe.

Updated at 11.55am

FINE GAEL 242_90512286

LEO VARADKAR HAS held his first event of the Fine Gael election campaign – appearing alongside Paschal Donohoe, the Public Expenditure Minister, at an event near the Mater Hospital in Dublin.

Members of the media were called to an event at Leo Street in Dublin 7 – in Donohoe’s Dublin Central constituency.

Donohoe’s was the only name to appear on the press release – but it was no major surprise when the candidate himself showed up too.

Varadkar was absent from the trail yesterday as his rival, Housing Minister Simon Coveney, held a press event outside Fine Gael HQ.

Instead he sent out groups of TDs and senators to express their support for his candidacy.

Speaking today, he said his campaign had got off to a good start.

He said he was humbled by the level of support he had received from Oireachtas members, and from volunteers who had been helping the campaign out.

Standing alongside him, Donohoe described his fellow Dublin TD as the “most capable politician of my generation”.

Alongside Donohoe, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has also said he will be be supporting Varadkar to be the next leader of the party.

Donohoe initially voiced his support for Varadkar on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland earlier today.

“Simon Coveney is a very fine politician… but I believe that Leo has the qualities that are particularly suited to the government now,” he said, adding that Varadkar had “all the qualities needed to lead Ireland”.

Speaking this morning on Today With Sean O’Rourke, Flanagan said that Varadkar was the “change” candidate and that he would lead the party into future.

Flanagan said that “he had no doubt” that Varadkar would “add greatly to the Fine Gael support base”.

Paul Kehoe, a junior minister, also backed Varadkar this morning. Speaking on Pat Kenny Newstalk, Kehoe said that he was “proud” to give Varadkar his support.

This morning’s announcements further strengthen Varadkar’s early commanding lead in the Fine Gael leadership election. The Social Protection Minister has secured almost twice as much support of the Fine Gael parliamentary party as rival Simon Coveney.

According to TheJournal.ie’s running tally Varadkar has support from 34 of the 73-member parliamentary party (TDs, senators and MEPs) while Coveney has 15.

Under Fine Gael party rules, TDs, senators and MEPs account for 65% of the voting power in the contest, councillors account for 10% and general party members make up 25%.

Busy day 

It was a busy day yesterday for Fine Gael (so busy, they forgot to cast an important vote in the Dáil) as the leadership contest officially kicked off.

Early on, potential candidates Frances Fitzgerald and Richard Bruton declared they would not be running, paving the way for Coveney and Varadkar to take centre stage.

A number of other high-profile names declared their support for Varadkar too. Bruton, is behind him, as is Arts Minister Heather Humphreys and Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell-O’Connor.

Coveney has been a bit slower to rally strong support (Health Minister Simon Harris is one notable member behind him), but his camp yesterday insisted to our reporter that they were confident of a victory (as did Varadkar’s).

Coveney officially launched his campaign yesterday, saying that he would be a strong and stable leader of the party. Varadkar is due to hold an official campaign launch tomorrow.

The campaign will run for just about two weeks, with the matter due to be settled by 2 June.

With reporting from Christina Finn, Daragh Brophy and Garreth MacNamee. 

Read: Simon was out early as the battle began in Fine Gael … we’re still waiting for Leo

Read: The man who would be king – is Simon Coveney on a well-worn path to Taoiseach?>

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