The contenders: Who will be the next Fine Gael leader?

The contenders: Who will be the next Fine Gael leader?

Irish Examiner Political Editor, Daniel McConnell, looks at the top three contenders to be the next Fine Gael leader.

Leo Varadkar: Darling of the party; messiah for the media

Age: 38

Constituency: Dublin West

First elected to the Dáil in 2007, Leo Varadkar has been touted for the leadership almost from day one.

A qualified doctor, he is an unconventional politician. Outspoken, rebellious and somewhat aloof , he is the darling of the younger Fine Gael TDs to whom he can do no wrong.

Young, handsome, articulate, and yes gay, Mr Varadkar, they feel, is the complete package needed to succeed Kenny. He wants it too.

Every move made in the past 18 months ago has been viewed in the context of his journey towards the leadership.

The contenders: Who will be the next Fine Gael leader?

His lack of success in the Department of Health between 2014 and 2016 was forgiven by sections of the media who too believe he is the messiah.

We have heard countless stories in the past year about him hanging out with TDs, inviting them to race meetings, and opening constituency offices to build his support base.

Such glowing profiles have allowed him open a lead within the parliamentary party over Simon Coveney.

His coming out as gay in early 2015 was seen as a seismic moment, in the months ahead of the marriage equality referendum.

Making his announcement, Mr Varadkar said: “I am a gay man. It is not a secret. It’s not something that defines me. It is part of my character.” Mr Varadkar said his decision to come out was driven by personal and political reasons. He revealed his sexuality saying he “didn’t want anyone thinking I have a hidden agenda, I always tried to be honest with people”. He said he wants to be an equal citizen in a country of which he is a minister.

His attraction as a potential leader comes from his ability and willingness to speak his mind, even if it got him into trouble with his party leader, Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Breaking ranks on the issue of Garda whistleblowers in 2014 where he described them as “distinguished” led to a sea change in the stance of government vis-à-vis Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Support base: Most Dublin TDs including Eoghan Murphy and Noel Rock, John Paul Phelan, Jim Daly, Pat Deering and many others are card-carrying members of Team Leo.

Bookies odds: 4/11

Simon Coveney: Safe pair of hands if a little bit too cautious

Age: 44

Constituency: Cork South Central

Thrust into political life after the tragic death of his father Hugh in 1998, Simon Coveney has been written off for being too cautious and too boring, and for not being all that approachable to backbenchers and councillors.

Dealt a very difficult hand by Enda Kenny after being given responsibility for the Department of Housing, he has had to contend with the thorny issues of water, housing, and homelessness.

Even his biggest detractors will admit he has performed admirably in the role. In the wake of the budget, he made a point of selling his successes to the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, and by all accounts was his usual composed and assured self.

Since securing a key victory over Fianna Fáil before Christmas on the issue of rent controls, Mr Coveney has seen his stock rise considerably.

The contenders: Who will be the next Fine Gael leader?

This month, he oversaw the launch of the latest national planning report, and displayed a poise and confidence in the detail which portrayed someone who takes his job seriously. That is what you get with Mr Coveney. Having delivered the wallop to Barry Cowen and Fianna Fáil, his workhorse approach has won him newly found respect of his colleagues. Serious Simon versus Lightweight Leo is what it will come down to. Workhorse versus show horse is how one TD put it.

On winning the seat, the raw and fresh-faced Mr Coveney paid a brief but emotional tribute to his family from the dais at the count centre in the Neptune Stadium, Cork, fighting back tears.

“I won’t say much about my family apart from the fact they have been hugely supportive of me, my mother and my eldest brother in particular,” he said. “I hope they are very proud today and I’ll say nothing else.”

That reluctance to open himself more, or to show passion or humanity, is still a feature of the Simon Coveney we see today. Very methodical, very cautious, and very earnest but not always exciting.

Support base: Damien English, Pat Breen, Joe Carey, Senator Tim Lombard (school friend), Maria Bailey and most TDs in Munster and south Leinster.

Betting odds: 3/1

Paschal Donohoe: Heir apparent to the Kenny wing of the party

Age: 42

Constituency: Dublin Central

While he has repeatedly ruled himself out of the race, Paschal Donohoe, has found himself being cast as a likely compromise candidate.

His rise towards the top has been swift, to say the least. Having left a big sales job at Proctor and Gamble, the amiable Phibsborough-based minister only entered the Dáil in 2011.

His gentle demeanour and warm open approach has won him admirers across the floor in the Dáil, but he is not shy at putting the boot in when required, as shown during his aggressive if focussed attack on Sinn Féin the other night. One of the Dáil’s few intellectuals, Donohoe is an avid reader and music lover.

In his early days as a TD, he had to try and recover from the fact he opposed Enda Kenny in the 2010 heave and was available for every tough media assignment like appearing on the Tonight Show with Vincent Browne during some rough times.

The contenders: Who will be the next Fine Gael leader?

He soon got his reward. He replaced Lucinda Creighton in 2013 as junior European Minister.

Promoted to the senior Cabinet less than a year later to Transport, he displayed a steady hand during the sale of the Government’s stake in Aer Lingus and various public transport strikes.

Retaining his seat against the odds, he played a leading role in the Government formation talks and is now Public Expenditure Minister.

Under trying circumstances, he oversaw the passage of his first Budget last October and has fought hard to contain mounting public sector pay demands at a time of great uncertainty.

Support base: Has been touted as the heir apparent to the Kenny wing of the party, who may feel isolated under Coveney or Varadkar, and as such still has a shout worthy of listening to in this race.

Betting odds: 12/1

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