Latest: Fine Gael factions kick off: Coveney backer labels Varadkar supporters 'choir boys'

Who has declared for Varadkar and who has declared for Coveney?

LEO VARADKAR:

TDs - 28

Patrick Donovan; Fergus O'Dowd; Charlie Flanagan; Heather Humphreys; Paul Kehoe; Mary Mitchell O'Connor; Paschal Donohoe; Leo Varadkar; Richard Bruton; Eoghan Murphy; Sean Kyne; Ciaran Cannon; Michael D'Arcy; Joe McHugh; Brendan Griffin; Alan Farrell; Noel Rock; Jim Daly; Pat Deering; Peter Burke; Josepha Madigan; John Paul Phelan; Colm Brophy; Helen McEntee; John Deasy; Tom Neville; Tony McLoughlin, Regina Doherty

Senators - 9

Paddy Burke; Ray Butler; Maria Byrne; Martin Conway; Frank Feighan; Maura Hopkins; Michelle Mulherin; Catherine Noone; Neale Richmond

MEPs - 1

Brian Hayes

TOTAL 38

SIMON COVENEY:

TDs - 11

Hildegarde Naughton; Simon Coveney; Peter Fitzpatrick; Simon Harris; Damien English; David Stanton; Marcella Corcoran Kennedy; Maria Bailey; Kate O'Connell; Dara Murphy; Sean Barrett

Senators - 8

Paudie Coffey; Jerry Buttimer; Colm Burke; Gabrielle McFadden; James Reilly; John O'Mahony; Tim Lombard; Paul Coghlan

MEPs - 1

Deirdre Clune

Total: 20

UKNOWNS (20)

MEPS: Sean Kelly; Mairead McGuinness

TDs: Pat Breen; Catherine Byrne; Joe Carey; Michael Creed; Andrew Doyle/undeclared; Bernard Durkan; Frances Fitzgerald; Martin Heydon; Enda Kenny; Michael Ring/won't declare

Michael Noonan;

Senators: Joe O'Reilly; Kieran O'Donnell.

Who elects the next leader of Fine Gael?

  • 65%; The Fine Gael parliamentary party includes 73 politicians and makes up 65pc of the total electorate;
  • 10%: Fine Gael's 230 councillors make up 10pc of the electorate;
  • 25%: The party's rank and file members hold 25% of the voting power​.​

Update 10: 55pm: A key Simon Coveney backer has labelled Leo Varadkar's supporters "choir boys" who are "singing for their supper" and ignoring grassroots views.

Speaking at a Fine Gael meeting in Clare last night, Dublin Bay South TD Kate O'Connell made the increasingly bitter private exchanges between the factions public.

Despite Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar calling for a clean contest, Ms O'Connell said she is "very disappointed" by some of the Social Protection Minister's supporters' actions.

She said some "choreographed, co-ordinated choir boys, boys singing for their supper" are "afraid of their jaysus of what is ahead of them" if they do not toe a specific line, and deliberately ignoring grassroots views.

The comment came as a number of TDs who support Mr Varadkar privately labelled Mr Coveney's backers as being like Iraqi official "Comical Ali", and as Mr Coveney's team urged grassroots voters to "turn" national politicians backing his rival.

Update 7.35pm: The Government Chief Whip is laying her support behind Leo Varadkar in the Fine Gael leadership race.

Regina Doherty says he has the smarts, integrity and sincerity for the job.

Update 5.12pm: It is understood Leo Varadkar has another four supporters ready to be declared - which would bring him to 42.

Update 4.28pm: Leo Varadkar says he will be guided by the politics of Michael Collins, as he continues to build a lead over Simon Coveney.

With 14 members of the Parliamentary Party still to declare their intentions, the Varadkar camp has the support of 38 with Coveney's on 19.

But the Housing Minister says he is not fazed by the numbers, and has ruled out ending the contest early.

Update - 2.45pm: Leo Varadkar has now officially gained the support of over half of the Fine Gael parliamentary party.

With 14 members still to declare their intentions, Mr Varadkar has the support of 38 members, with Simon Coveney on 19.

Mr Varadkar's camp claim to have another three or four members secured, whose endorsements will be announced later.

Update - 12.55pm: Simon Coveney says he is not surprised that Leo Varadkar has opened up an early lead in the race to be the next Fine Gael leader.

A number of Ministers have declared for the Social Protection Minister this morning - including Paschal Donohoe, Charlie Flanagan and Paul Kehoe.

TD Fergus O'Dowd also declared for Mr Varadkar while Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick has said he is supporting Mr Coveney.

Mr Coveney said: "We expected that because there are a lot of people with strong views supporting Leo, so we expected them to come out early.

"But there are still about 20 Parliamentary Party colleagues who haven't declared for anybody and we think we can do well amongst those people."

Update - 12pm: Waterford TD John Deasy has declared his support for Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar, in what will be a further major blow to Simon Coveney’s bid to succeed Enda Kenny, writes Daniel McConnell of the Irish Examiner.

Mr Deasy who is close to both candidates told the Irish Examiner that it was a very difficult decision but felt Mr Varadkar is best placed now to lead the party.

Mr Deasy’s declaration is the latest in a series to go Mr Varadkar’s way this morning and is significant as Mr Coveney’s camp had strongly hoped he would support their man.

“This is not an easy decision and there is not a lot to choose between the two. I am friends with both but at this stage Leo is best placed to take over as leader and I will be supporting his leadership,” he told the Irish Examiner.

Mr Deasy has languished in the political wilderness under Enda Kenny and has said in the past that he could possibly see himself in Cabinet under Mr Varadkar’s leadership.

The Waterford TD has been scathing in recent months about Mr Kenny’s leadership of Fine Gael, and said a major change in direction in Government is needed.

“When a political party rewards failure to the extent that Fine Gael and Enda Kenny has, it's in serious trouble,” he said.

When asked did he think he could be in Cabinet, Mr Deasy said: “Yeah, I could be. I don’t have a crystal ball but yes, it is possible.”

Update - 11.35am: Leo Varadkar has confirmed he will run for the Fine Gael leadership.

The Social Protection Minister has said he will launch his campaign officially tomorrow.

He has made his first public appearance of the leadership campaign.

Paschal Donohoe and Mr Varadkar arrived with cupcakes and coffees for the media gathered on Leo Avenue in Dublin 7.

The Minister said despite an early lead, he has not won anything yet.

"Most importantly I want to take the country forward.

"We've been through a really difficult recession which is now over, but the wounds caused by that recession are still very real and many of them are still open," he said.

Update - 11.10am: Leo Varadkar has appeared in public for the first time since the Fine Gael leadership election got underway.

The Social Protection Minister posed for photographs on Leo Street in Dublin with Paschal Donohoe.

Mr Donohoe declared his support this morning along with Ministers Charlie Flanagan and Paul Kehoe, as well as TD Fergus O'Dowd.

Update 11.03am: The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has said he will be voting for Leo Varadkar as leader of Fine Gael.

He described him as 'the change candidate' who is courageous, dynamic, hardworking, very interested in policy and energetic.

"I believe he has all the qualities to be a very good leader," he said.

Minister Flanagan told the Sean O'Rourke programme on RTÉ Radio 1 that a leadership election is time for renewal and Leo Varadkar reflects a changing Ireland, a diverse Ireland, and will broaden Fine Gael's support base.

He said that after ten years of crisis management, it is time for a new direction for Fine Gael and the country and that Leo Varadkar is the person to set a new ambitious course for Ireland.

"I think he undoubtedly reflects a changing Ireland," he said.

He described him as a reforming Minister for Social Protection, someone who can hold the government together and is a team player.

"I'm quite satisfied as a rural TD and a colleague of Leo that he is the one who is most reflective of a modern Ireland and I look forward to working with him.

"He will look after the coping classes in Ireland, those who are paying the bills and he will ensure also then, that the vulnerable benefit," he said.

Update - 10.49am: Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick has added his support to Simon Coveney in the race.

He told LMFM: "In my opinion I think the best person for the job is going to be Simon Coveney, I would give Simon Coveney 100% backing.

"I think his workrate is exceptional, I think he has a fantastic personality, he's got the experience, he's got the full package.

"I believe he will be the best man to lead Fine Gael going forward and also would make a fantastic Taoiseach."

Update - 9.30am: Leo Varadkar’s campaign to become Taoiseach received a significant double boost this morning after ministers Paschal Donohoe and Charlie Flanagan have announced they are to back him, writes Daniel McConnell of the Irish Examiner.

While Mr Donohoe’s decision to back Mr Varadkar was not a surprise, Mr Flanagan’s decision to back the Social Protection Minister has come as a major surprise and will be a significant blow to the Simon Coveney campaign.

Mr Flanagan made his announcement on RTE Radio this morning and along with Paul Kehoe this morning, the declaration from the two experienced ministers ensures that Mr Varadkar continues to rack up a lead - despite not having technically declared as of yet.

Mr Donohoe's support was revealed by the Irish Examiner yesterday, but Mr Flanagan deliberately kept his cards close to his chest until this morning.

Mr Donohoe was fulsome in his praise.

"I will be supporting Leo Varadkar as he is the most capable politician of my generation and I believe that he has all of the qualities needed to lead Ireland into a future that has both great opportunities and new risks," he said.

"I think Simon Coveney is a very fine politician and I wish him the best of luck in his campaign but I believe that Leo has the qualities needed for this particular government now," the Dublin Central TD said.

Mr Donohoe added that Mr Varadkar has "a rare combination of intellect and judgement that I believe makes him best qualified for leader and Taoiseach."

Mr Donohoe said it's a "matter for the next Taoiseach" on whether or not a general election is held.

Speaking on RTE's Morning Ireland, he said Mr Varadkar implemented a number of successful plans while in Government.

"As Minister for Transport he made the decision to go ahead with the Luas cross city works, as Minister for Health he organised the Gathering and expanded the GP cards for under 6s and over 68s. He also made the final decision on the National Children's Hospital.

Mr Donohoe called on his party colleagues to "support Leo as the leader of our country."

Update - 9.30am: The Minister with responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe, has come out in support of Leo Varadkar for the Fine Gael leadership.

It comes after Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe declared his support for Varadkar this morning.

Mr Kehoe said: "Since 2002 I have had the privilege of working with Enda Kenny, witnessing at first hand his energy, commitment and dedication, so vital to the task of rebuilding the Fine Gael party.

"Faced with the even greater task of rebuilding our country, these same qualities were instrumental to the work of regaining our economic independence and restoring our confidence as a Nation.

"Throughout this period the support of his wife Fionnuala and his family was unwavering.

"With his retirement Fine Gael is faced with a choice and in my view that choice is Leo Varadkar."

Mr Kehoe went on to explain why he was endorsing Mr Varadkar.

He said: "As Minister, Leo has proven his ability to get things done, managing big departments and dealing with sensitive industrial relations disputes. His capacity to build a strong support base is testament to his willingness to work with party colleagues, and will be essential to growing support for the Fine Gael party.

"He has shown openness and honesty in his personal life, breaking new ground in Irish politics.

"As the political landscape continues to shift, at home and abroad, his forthright style and ability to effect change, makes him the best placed candidate to deal with the challenges facing us.

"It is for these reasons that I think Leo is the right person to lead Fine Gael and continue the good work of this Government."

Update - 8.15am: Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe has declared his support for Leo Varadkar in the Fine Gael leadership race.

He publicly endorsed the Social Protection Minister this morning on RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland.

Mr Donohoe said Mr Varadkar "is the most capable politician of my generation" and "has the all of the qualities needed to lead Ireland".

The Public Expenditure Minister said Simon Coveney is a very fine politician, but said: "I believe Leo has qualities that are particularly suited to the job of government now.

"He has a rare combination of intellect and judgement that makes him best qualified for both leader and Taoiseach."

Earlier: More declarations for the two contenders to be the next leader of Fine Gael are expected today.

Last night the party's national executive outlined how the campaign will run - with hustings and voting to take place around the country.

After yesterday's dramatic day of declarations, today may be somewhat quieter, but the two campaigns will continue to make their case.

This morning all eyes are on Minister Paschal Donohoe who is expected to declare for Leo Varadkar.

Other members of the Parliamentary Party have signalled they too will make their intentions known.

Last night, it was decided that nominations will close tomorrow evening , and no one expects anymore candidates in the race.

From Thursday to Sunday next week there will be four regional debates or hustings - in Dublin, Carlow, Ballinasloe and Cork.

Then between Monday 26 May and Thursday June 1, voting for 235 Councillors and up to 21,000 members will take place at 26 polling stations across the country.

On Friday June 2, the PP will vote, all the votes will be counted and the winner announced.

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