Fine Gael ‘to vote on new leader in weeks’

Fine Gael members across the country have been put on alert that a vote for a new leader will happen by the end of this month.

The Irish Examiner has confirmed that a number of hotels across the country have been booked for Friday, May 26 to facilitate the vote of a new leader.

In the strongest indication to date that Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s departure from office is imminent, local Fine Gael organisations are preparing themselves to enable the vote for a new leader for the first time since 2002.

It is understood from sources that the bookings have been made privately in order to try and contain speculation and not interfere with Mr Kenny’s desire to determine his own departure date.

“We are being careful with this but yes, a hotel here has been booked for the 26th to allow members vote on the leadership. That is the date we are working with at the moment,” said one senior Fine Gael figure.

With Mr Kenny in Canada today and tomorrow on what is his expected last major trip, there is mounting belief he will take the opportunity of next week’s parliamentary party meeting or the following one to set out his timeline for departure.

When asked about the talk, party bosses said such talk is “absolutely premature” and all depends on when Mr Kenny decides to announce.

“We are in a Catch 22 situation. We can’t organise anything until he pulls the trigger but then we will have to organise matters very quickly,” said one senior party figure.

The party rules say the contest, from its official start date, can take up to 20 days. There will be a number of regional hustings. It is likely to last the full duration allowed under the Fine Gael constitution, since a number of candidates want to use to the process to develop a policy platform ahead of the next election.

Under party rules, the leadership is decided by an electoral college which gives parliamentary party members (51 TDs, 19 senators and four MEPs) 65% of the vote, ordinary members of the party 25%, and public representatives (councillors) 10%. Fine Gael’s executive council is currently working out the logistics of running a leadership contest.

It has been reported that Mr Coveney is expected to initiate his Fine Gael leadership bid at two party meetings in Cork next Monday.

Sources within Fine Gael indicated that Mr Coveney will use two party annual general meetings to rally local members in advance of the campaign.

He will speak both the Cork North Central Fine Gael AGM in the Vienna Woods and the Cork East Fine Gael AGM in the Corrin Events Centre at the Cork Marts complex in Fermoy. With the general membership of Fine Gael making up 25% of the overall vote for leader, Mr Coveney will need his base Cork to deliver while he builds on that base in the rest of the country, particularly the midlands and the north-west.

Cork North Central has 663 members, according to 2016 figures, while Cork East has 558.

There are more than 3,000 Fine Gael members across the five Cork constituencies, compared to just over 2,000 in his rival Minister Leo Varadkar’s home city of Dublin.

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