A Government minister has strongly suggested Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald should take over as leader from Enda Kenny, saying she “demonstrates all of the qualities a taoiseach would need”.
Children and Youth Affairs Minister Katherine Zappone made the remarks yesterday.
She likened the possibility of a female leader of Ireland to the potential US presidency of Hillary Clinton, amid continuing speculation that Leo Varadkar or Simon Coveney are the most likely contenders.
Ms Zappone was speaking to reporters after the launch of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre’s 2015 annual report.
Ms Zappone said Ms Fitzgerald is “absolutely the strongest advocate for the leadership of women”.
Asked if she believed it would be good for this country if, when Mr Kenny steps down, he is replaced by a woman and, further, if Ms Fitzgerald is the right person for the job, Ms Zappone said her Cabinet colleague has all the attributes necessary to take up the position.
“I am absolutely the strongest advocate for the leadership of women,” said Ms Zappone.
“I am really hoping this will happen in the country of my origin, the United States of America, and I’m very heartened by the nomination of Hillary Clinton.
“If, in fact, Ireland has a leadership of a woman, a woman to be leader, a taoiseach in the not too distant future, of course I would welcome that. I would rejoice in that.
“I think Frances has been a tremendous parliamentarian as well as a tremendous minister in both of her ministries, so really I think she demonstrates all of the qualities that a taoiseach would need.”
The comment is likely to reignite the debate over who is likely to replace Mr Kenny as taoiseach and Fine Gael leader when he steps down before the next general election.
Until now, Mr Coveney, the housing minister, and Mr Varadkar, the social protection minister, were widely seen as the most likely successors.
A recent Ipsos/MRBI opinion poll placed Mr Varadkar on 31% of public support, followed by Mr Coveney with 21% backing, and Ms Fitzgerald on 10%.
All three have insisted they remain fully behind Mr Kenny.
There is a belief among some Fine Gael members that Ms Fitzgerald could ultimately become a compromise candidate due to the competition between the rival campaigns.
Like Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar, Ms Fitzgerald has said she remains fully committed to supporting Mr Kenny’s leadership.
In a recent interview, the Tánaiste said she is “not one of these young men or young women who woke up at age 10 and said ‘I want to be taoiseach’” as such a blunt position “is not my style”.
“You do see people who say ‘I want to be leader’ and become leader. And then you see other people quite unexpectedly becoming leader. I don’t rule it out but, as I say, it’s not my style.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved