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The contenders for the Fine Gael leadership, ranked from most to least likely

He who wields the knife rarely wears the crown…

THE RUMOUR MILL is well and truly in overdrive as to who will be the next Fine Gael leader.

Since last week (which has been dubbed one of the worst the government has faced since taking office) pressure has been mounting on Enda Kenny to outline a timeline for his departure as party leader.

A handful of backbench TDs have called for Kenny to stand aside in recent days – or at least to inform the party of his plans. He is expected to give some further detail later this evening at the party’s parliamentary party meeting.

The Taoiseach himself has previously said he will not lead the party into another general election.

Sources within the party said there was panic last week over the Maurice McCabe and Tusla scandal. There was a genuine fear a snap election could be around the corner, one TD said.

Some Fine Gael TDs are anxious to see a change in leadership sooner rather than later – particularly in light of Fianna Fáil’s recent opinion poll success.

So far, a number of ministers have ruled themselves in and out of the race.

Here, we give you the six most likely successors to Enda Kenny…

Garda Whistleblower Story Housing Minister Simon Coveney with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at last year's Fine Gael think-in in Kildare. Source: Eamonn Farrell

Simon Coveney

He’s the minister responsible for dealing with the homelessness crisis, the Irish Water debacle, and housing. Not exactly the easiest of portfolios.

Since Enda Kenny’s leadership became an issue, his name has always been on the short list.

Until recently, he has featured as the second favourite to Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar, who topped a Sunday Independent opinion poll on the likely next leader of Fine Gael last weekend with 27% support among the general public, compared to Coveney’s 23%.

Varadkar also came out tops in a Claire Byrne Live poll this week. However, a poll of Irish Independent readers on Monday showed a distinctly different result – with 40% stating they thought Simon Coveney should be the next Taoiseach.

Figures within his own party and, interestingly, many on the opposition benches, are quick to say they don’t doubt Coveney’s work ethic and dedication to the job – and while he’s often described as a “workhorse”, his critics say he might lack the charisma to be the next leader.

His supporters contend that the Cork TD’s management of his brief compensates for any perceived lack of star power. Notably, Coveney was commended on how he dealt with pushback from Fianna Fáil on his rental strategy in December.

Analysing more recent events, his stance during RTÉ’s Week in Politics that he would not push the Taoiseach out of office was seen by the more traditional, grass-roots members of the party as being the “respectful” way to deal with Enda Kenny.

While Varadkar and his supporters have denied orchestrating any sort of strategy, Coveney said his fellow minister wanted to “push things” in relation to the departure of the Taoiseach.

Let’s not forget, Kenny holds the record as the longest-serving member of Dáil Eireann and is still hugely respected in the party. His backing will be invaluable to whichever candidate he supports in the race. The two men have been working closely on the homelessness issue recently, and it’s understood they’ve struck up a good working relationship.

Coveney’s time as Agriculture minister can’t be discounted either – it will have done him no harm with older voters and farmers, a traditional Fine Gael support base.

Chances: Substantial. Following events of the last week, he could yet win Kenny’s backing as an alternative to Varadkar. 

Same-sex marriage vote set for May Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Leo Varadkar

If money talks, then the Dublin West TD has a serious chance to be the next leader of Fine Gael.

Bets on Leo Varadkar becoming the next Fine Gael leader were suspended by Paddy Power on Sunday after a rush from punters to place money on the Minister for Social Protection.

Varadkar has long been regarded to be Enda’s successor, and he’s been on the campaign trail for some time now: the Dublin TD has travelled the length and breadth of the country opening up social welfare offices (even in Coveney’s own back yard of Carrigaline).

However, whisperings that he may have been behind moves to force the Taoiseach into setting out a timeline to step aside may have put his ascension to the top job in jeopardy. He also disregarded party chairman Martin Heydon’s plea to TDs to stop commenting on the leadership issue last weekend – putting out a statement on Saturday night urging the Taoiseach to address the leadership situation.

Varadkar’s plain-speaking style means he is well liked by the public. However some backbenchers think his off-message remarks have no place in the office of An Taoiseach, and could prove damaging.

One TD pointed to Varadkar’s less-than-helpful remarks about Fianna Fáil and water charges during the government formation talks, which, it was feared, could have brought the whole process toppling down after over 60-odd days of negotiations.

He’s held three ministries – Transport, Health and now Social Protection. Decent experience, sure – but the health portfolio, as it has for so many, proved difficult. Hospital waiting lists and trolley numbers were just as much an issue for Varadkar as they are now for Simon Harris.

According to last weekend’s Sunday Independent poll on the issue of the Fine Gael leadership, Varadkar came out on top with 27%. Perhaps significantly, his lead is wider among Fine Gael supporters, who back him over Coveney by 37% to 28%.

Chances: His popularity among the wider public could swing the party behind him. We predict Leo could have a fight on his hands. 

0349 Taoiseach launch Mulvey Report_90503078 Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe Source: RollingNews.ie

Paschal Donohoe

The Dublin TD has ruled himself out, but there’s talk that big government players like Finance Minister Michael Noonan are trying to convince him to throw his hat in the ring.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is rated highly within the party and is liked by many.

New buses for Dublin Like Varadkar, Donohoe also served as Minister for Transport - and wasn't shy of a good photoshoot. Source: Brian Lawless

The Minister’s been in the firing line when it comes to public pay in recent months. He had to concede the Garda pay deal after the pre-Christmas Labour Court decision, and he faces quite a few challenges ahead with the bus drivers, teachers and nurses.

Donohoe is a capable media performer and senior members in the party see him as safe pair of hands.

Chances: Slim, although, you never know, he could come up on the outside. 

Doorstep Richard Bruton TD Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton TD Source: Sam Boal

Richard Bruton

He’s no stranger to leadership heaves, having organised one already against Kenny in 2010 when the party was in opposition.

That attempt collapsed, dismally. But has his desire for leadership been bubbling under the surface for the past seven years?

The Education Minister has plenty of experience, having held numerous roles – most recently the high profile Jobs portfolio.

His profile on the Fine Gael website says he is happiest when he is in the kitchen cooking chicken balti and listening to Leonard Cohen. Whether he would be willing to sacrifice this for a Taoiseach’s busy schedule remains to be seen.

Chances: Slim again, but he has a thirst for the leadership that has not yet been quenched. 

File Photo  Maurice McCabe public inquiry Minister for Health Simon Harris Source: Sam Boal

Simon Harris

The Health Minister has been in the spotlight recently in the wake of the broadcast of an RTÉ documentary depicting the daily lives of those living on hospital waiting lists.

Harris, who represents Wicklow, said he would hold hospital managers to account over waiting list times and told his party colleagues at a meeting earlier this month that the party could not stand over what was happening in the health system.

His leadership ambitions may not have been taken seriously until recently – but he’s very much in the mix after messages from a Fine Gael Whatsapp group were leaked at the weekend.

It was claimed in the Whatsapp group that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is backing him for a tilt at the leadership. That’s not surprising. In a former life, before he was a politician, Harris worked in Fitzgerald’s office. So, it is safe to say they are close.

There is no doubt he is ambitious. At the age of 30, he has already managed to get a seat at the Cabinet table. He may well put his name forward for the leadership, but it might not be his time, just yet.

Chances: Maybe next time. 

Frances Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald has refused to rule out becoming Fine Gael’s first female leader.

1916 Centenary Commemorative Medal ceremony Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Appointed Tánaiste by Enda Kenny following the last general election, the Justice Minister has moved down the ranks in the leadership contest in recent weeks.

While she may have featured higher in the past, she’s one of the line ministers responsible for dealing with the fallout from the latest Garda whistleblower controversy – as a result, some potential backers may be reluctant to throw their support her way this time around.

Chances: Not great, considering recent events in government. 

Read: ‘Distracting and destabilising’: Leo Varadkar says ‘everyone is waiting’ on a decision from Enda >

Read: How does Fine Gael go about electing a new leader? >

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