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

He who wields the knife rarely wears the crown.

pjimage The Fine Gael leadership contenders, clockwise from bottom left: Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Simon Harris. Source:

GRUMBLINGS IN FINE Gael over Enda Kenny’s leadership have begun to emerge five months after the party lost 26 seats in the general election.

While only a handful of backbench TDs have called for Kenny to stand aside straight away, the Taoiseach himself has previously said he will not lead the party into another general election.

Fearful of a snap poll being forced by a resurgent Fianna Fáil, or by the Independent Alliance ministers, some Fine Gael TDs are increasingly anxious for a change in leadership.

Either way, an election looks increasingly likely between now and the end of 2017, and the jockeying for position among the party’s leading contenders has already commenced.

The fate of both Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, both of whom helped to depose British prime minister David Cameron, is perhaps one reason why no Fine Gael figures have, as yet, declared their hand.

In the words of Britain’s Lord Heseltine – the man who deposed Margaret Thatcher – he who wields the knife rarely wears the crown.

Here we give you the five most likely successors to Enda Kenny as leader of Ireland’s largest political party.

Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar Source:

The Dublin West TD became the first openly gay cabinet minister when, a year ago, he came out on his 36th birthday, a decision which cut the odds of a future Taoiseach Varadkar.

The son of a Wexford mother and an Indian GP father, the former Young Fine Gael stalwart has won garlands for his plain-speaking style.

One of the few politicians in the country identifiable by his first name, Leo won plaudits for his performance as Transport Minister, including the start of construction for the Luas Cross City project ahead of schedule.

Despite making little headway over hospital waiting lists and the perennial problem of patients on trolleys, his popularity appears scarcely dented from his time as Minister for Health, partly down to assured media performances and his ability to win extra budget funds from the Department of Finance.

He was unceremoniously demoted to the Department of Social Protection in the last reshuffle, but if Kenny was hoping to lower his public profile by placing him at a new department, it seems to have backfired.

Bookies’ favourite

The latest Irish Times Ipsos/MRBI poll puts the Dublin West TD on 31% public support, 10 points clear of his nearest rival, while Paddy Power has him as the 11/10 favourite.

Yet under Fine Gael rules, the next leader will be chosen by weighted vote of 50% for the parliamentary party; 20% for councillors; and 30% for party members.

With Kenny eager to prevent a Varadkar succession, and much of the front bench still firmly in the Taoiseach’s camp, lucky Leo could have a fight on his hands.

Chances: His popularity among the wider public could swing the party behind him.

Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney Source:

The new minister responsible for dealing with the Irish Water debacle and the homelessness crisis is second favourite to Varadkar for the leadership, with 21% of support according to recent polls.

What he might lack in charisma, he compensates for in management of his brief, and the Cork South Central’s time as agriculture minister has done him no harm with old voters and large farmers, a traditional Fine Gael electorate.

Botched heave

Coveney cut a reassuring presence during the horsemeat crisis, and presciently predicted a partnership of sorts between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil prior to the last election.

He was rumoured to have put himself forward as a compromise candidate during Richard Bruton’s botched heave against Enda Kenny in 2010, and remains second favourite with the bookmakers at 7/4.

It remains to be seen whether Kenny’s decision to hand him two challenging briefs was a pat on the back for his efficient administration, or a poisoned chalice.

Chances: Substantial. Could yet win Kenny’s backing as an alternative to Varadkar.

Leo Frances Source:

Frances Fitzgerald

Appointed Tánaiste by Enda Kenny following the last general election, the Justice Minister is seen as less independent of the Taoiseach than Coveney or Varadkar, and thus less likely to trigger a leadership contest.

Promoted from Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to replace outgoing justice minister Alan Shatter in 2014, the former social worker lost her seat in 2002, only returning to the Dáil in 2011.

Last September Fitzgerald, 65, gave an interview in which she refused to rule out becoming Fine Gael’s first female leader.

She was criticised following the O’Higgins Report for her handling of the whistleblower controversy, and Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan’s knowledge of the meeting between Maurice McCabe and two Garda officers.

Yet coming so soon after the formation of a new government, the political fallout was limited.

At 10/1 with the bookmakers, she could pose as a compromise candidate to avoid political bloodletting, yet those seeking a change from the Kenny era are likely to plump for younger colleagues.

Chances: Small, but don’t rule her out.

Simon Harris

Harris Source:

The new health minister has already made his meteoric mark upon the party, but at the tender age of 29 it may be too soon for the Wicklow TD to take the party reins.

Harris made his name as an able media performer during two years as junior minister in the Department of Finance, becoming nicknamed Minister for Floods for his penchant of turning up in wellies after a river had burst its banks.

His elevation to the Department of Health, putting him in charge of a budget of over €16 billion, was the most breathtaking ministerial promotion of recent times.

Yet that is indicative of his support among the current party leadership.

Chances: Not this time 

Paschal Donohoe

Paschal Donohue Source:

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is rated highly within the party and performed competently as Minister for Transport, although his idea for a Luas line to the airport via his home constituency of Phibsborough was changed by Cabinet.

A capable media performer who holds the line solidly, he would be seen by many as a very safe pair of hands.

But Donohoe doesn’t appear to hold any ambition for the leadership, and recently ruled himself out of any future contest.

Chances: Slim, although could come up on the outside.

Read: Some backbench TDs are rowing back on their demand for Enda Kenny to step down

Read: Leo would make a better leader of Fine Gael – poll

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