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New Era

Mending fences the order of the day for Leo - but there just aren't enough seats at the table

Leo Varadkar has won the Fine Gael fight, but he has another battle on his hands.
A historic day.

THOSE WERE THE words of Education Minister Richard Bruton just minutes after Leo Varadkar, the new leader of Fine Gael gave his victory speech.

As colourful ‘Leo’ posters waved overhead, Varadkar received a sustained round of applause from his party colleagues as he said “prejudice has no hold in this Republic”.

leo-elected-758a0859_90513920 Eamonn Farrell / Eamonn Farrell / /

His speech and the news that Ireland is set to have an openly gay Taoiseach who is the son of an immigrant is already making headlines around the world.

Ireland’s likely next leader, the Dublin TD defeated Simon Coveney in the leadership contest by a 60:40 margin yesterday.

He was tipped to win on day one of the contest, when a conveyor belt of TDs and senators rolled onto the Leinster House plinth pledging allegiances to Varadkar.

And come 6.30pm yesterday, his parliamentary party supporters, of which there were 51 to his opponent Simon Coveney’s 22, were well pleased.

“I am over the moon,” Fine Gael Senator Michelle Mulherin told

“We are in very changed times and this is now going to be a complete change with Leo. We needed a strong leader, and one that will draw inclusiveness for all parts of society.

It is a great test to Irishness that we can accommodate someone no matter what their sexuality is no matter what their culture or creed is.

“As Martin Luther King says judge someone by the content of their character not the colour of their skin,” she added.

She wasn’t the only one beaming.

There were hoots of laughter heard from Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Paschal Donohoe and a grin from ear-to-ear for Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

But there is no suggestion that this was a walk-in-the-park for Varadkar.

Coveney’s persistence and dogged travel itinerary around the country resulted in him landing the support of the vast majority of ordinary Fine Gael members, pulling in 7,051 votes (65%), while Varadkar won just 3,772 (35%).

It was also pretty close with the councillors’ vote too – announced as the second electoral college and weighted at 10%. Varadkar won 123 votes to Coveney’s 100.

Although the parliamentary party’s say was greater yesterday, those in power will be conscious that a party is nothing without its grassroots.

These results clearly highlight divisions within the party, with at least one councillor telling this website that Coveney’s message resonated much more with people on the ground.

leo varadkar Sam Boal Sam Boal

In his concession speech, Coveney said:

“We are going to move on now, having been through the challenges of the last six years, to build a stronger better country, focusing on communities, focusing on broader society as well as managing and growing an economy. I am so proud of everyone in Fine Gael.”

But uniting the party isn’t the Corkman’s job now – it’s Varadkar’s. It is he who must mend cracks that may have deepened when the debate got ‘sparky’, as Coveney described. First on the list may be Leo’s campaign manager, junior minister Eoghan Murphy, and strong Coveney supporter Kate O’Connell.

“While we might vary on some details, I know there is much more that unites us than divides us. I know we’re going to work together to bring Fine Gael and Ireland forward,” added Varadkar, who also said he hoped he could prove himself in the month ahead to those who didn’t vote for him.

But what will his very next move be? That’s the bigger dilemma for the new guy.

Who to promote? Who to demote? What will the Independents want and should he renegotiate government formation? To go to the polls or negotiate a budget with Fianna Fáil?

There are a lot of questions to answer.

While Varadkar said he “never authorised” any promises to politicians in return for their support, there is no doubt that some people will be expecting a promotion or boost once Leo is formally voted in as Taoiseach in the Dáil.

However, cold water was quickly poured on some people’s expectations last night as he hinted that any Cabinet reshuffle will be minimal.

It is never going to be possible to promote everyone that you would like to promote,” he said.

“Inevitably, it’s never going to be possible to promote all the people that you would like to promote,  but I will put together the best team that I possibly can and everyone will have a role to play. I suppose in politics it is never possible to keep everyone happy, that is the nature of the business.”

However, one man has already been guaranteed a place at the table. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Simon Coveney will be a the table (in fact, the pair are meeting tomorrow to discuss it).

When asked who might be Tánaiste, Varadkar was quick to point out that there already is one.

“We have a Tánaiste, it’s France Fitzgerald,” he said.

I think she is doing a really great job as Tánaiste and I am very grateful for the support she’s given me.

The Independent Alliance ministers will also be happy to hear their ministerial roles are safe, according to the new party leader.

So, what kind of Taoiseach can we expect in Leo Varadkar? Well, we shouldn’t be used to seeing him stuck in his ways, according to the man himself.

He said he was recently described on the radio as a politician that was still evolving – and he agrees.

I am a politician that is still evolving and I am a person that is still evolving. I think a lot of people evolve throughout their lives as they grow older, as they learn from their experiences, learn from mistakes, learn from their achievements, and learn from other people… I hope to continue to evolve.

Read: Leo Varadkar’s first words as Fine Gael leader: ‘Prejudice has no hold in this Republic’>

Read: From poisoned chalice to top of the table… Leo Varadkar now destined to be Taoiseach?>

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