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'If she ran, we'd hit her with that every day': Fitzgerald's leadership bid ends before it started

The Justice Minister confirmed this morning it was “not the right” decision for her.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

WITH YESTERDAY’S ANNOUNCEMENT that Enda Kenny will step down as Fine Gael leader came speculation about who will replace him.

The third favourite for the role, backable at 22/1 with bookies, was Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

That was until this morning, when she declared herself out of the race saying that entering the contest “is not the right decision for me”.

Her confirmation that she had “seriously considered contesting the leadership election” tallies with what sources close to her have indicated, that there was interest in the role. However, the events of the last 24 hours have left her unable to see a path to the Taoiseach’s office.

One source said:

I’m sure every politician thinks about it and, if the opportunity is there now, why not? But this is probably a few weeks too late.

Career

Fitzgerald has served as a national politician since 1992, when she was elected to the Dáil in Dublin South East. She held that seat for 10 years, before losing it in 2002.

From there, she did not return to the national stage until 2007, when she ran in the Dublin Mid-West constituency – but again she missed out on a seat.

She was subsequently elected to the Seanad and immediately installed as Fine Gael’s leader in the Seanad.

She served in that role for four years, before being re-elected to the Dáil, finishing second in the Dublin Mid-West constituency as Fine Gael and Labour swept to power.

Despite her nine-year absence from the Dáil, Kenny put her straight in his cabinet, making her the first-ever Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

She later succeeded Alan Shatter as Justice Minister in May 2014, a position she has held since. Last May, she would add Tánaiste to her title.

Would she have been a good Taoiseach? 

Many people who have worked with and opposite Fitzgerald say that she would have been more than capable of doing the job.

“I genuinely think that had she been in a position to challenge Enda in 2010, she could be Taoiseach,” says one person familiar with Fitzgerald.

“It’s not a question of ability here. She’s very capable.”

Why she won’t be the next Taoiseach…

In the end for Fitzgerald, there were two obvious obstacles; the field and the gardaí.

With Coveney and Varadkar the early front-runners, the race has narrowed in the last month. Around about the same time, she was fielding what felt like daily scandals in the gardaí.

“I don’t think it’s a question of stomach for the fight at all,” says one.

I think it’s more a question of dividing the party if there’s going to be a general election some time soon. If this had been a few weeks ago, I reckon she would have run.

Others wonder if ongoing controversies in the gardaí and the Charleton Tribunal meant that Fitzgerald was automatically behind the black ball and unable to garner the support within the party necessary to run.

“Whether she likes it or not,” says a political opponent, “The gardaí are a problem for her. She’s been Justice Minister three years and new scandals feel like they’re popping up every week.

“If she ran, we’d hit her with that every day.”

Fitzgerald has not yet indicated if she will contest the next election, nor who she intends to support for her party’s leader.

Cartoon Kenny: This is almost certainly what Enda Kenny’s office looks like right now

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