Fine Gael leader to be declared after 16-day contest

The leader of Fine Gael is expected to be declared before 6pm this evening after a 16-day campaign.

The leadership contest, which gives a say to councillors and grassroots members for the first time, is now likely to be copied by other political parties in the future given the positive and widespread media coverage it generated for Fine Gael.

Councillors and ordinary members have been voting at 26 polling stations across the country on a staggered basis for the past four days, and a polling station was also set up in Brussels on Monday to cater for Fine Gael staff working in EU offices.

Turnout has averaged 52% across the country.

However, Cork North Central, Cork South Central and Cork East saw a turnout level of 59%.

There was a 56% turn-out in Carlow-Kilkenny and 57% of members voted in Cavan-Monaghan.

Attention now turns to members of the parliamentary party who cast their ballot this morning in Leinster House before voting closes at midday.

And given the weighting that TDs, senators and MEPs have been given, this final cohort is likely to determine whether Simon Coveney, who has been trailing Leo Varadkar in the number of publicly-declared representatives he has gained, can claw back enough votes.

The Cork South Central TD has been battling hard to win back some of the 46 TDs, senators, and MEPs that have come out to publicly support Mr Varadkar in the contest.

Supporters of Mr Coveney, who has secured the public endorsement of 21 members of the parliamentary party, had claimed that he has already turned two Varadkar supports and they will now vote for him in today’s ballot.

Votes are weighted in accordance with the Fine Gael electoral college rules, with the 73 members of the parliamentary party accounting for 65% of the total vote; almost 21,000 party members accounting for 25%; and 235 local representatives — 232 councillors and three Údarás na Gaeltachta members — accounting for the remaining 10% of the vote.

All votes will be brought to the National Count Centre, in Dublin’s Mansion House this afternoon where they will be verified and counted under the supervision of the national returning officer, Gerry O’Connell, chairman of the Fine Gael Executive Council.

The result of Fine Gael members will be announced first, followed by local representatives and then the parliamentary party, with the final outcome expected to be announced before 6pm.

People can watch the results live on Facebook or via the Fine Gael website.

When the result is announced, the focus will quickly shift to negotiations with the Independents in government as well as the Fianna Fáil party to maintain the current minority government and the confidence and supply agreement.

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