The two favourites to succeed Enda Kenny have played down a leadership battle as the Taoiseach faces mounting pressure to state when he will step down.
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday insisted there is “no vacancy at the moment” after a poll revealed he is favourite to take over from Mr Kenny.
Speaking in Brussels, Housing Minister Simon Coveney said “there isn’t a leadership contest in Fine Gael right now, there isn’t going to be any time soon”.
It comes after an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll found Mr Varakdar is the favourite to become the next Fine Gael leader on 31%. Mr Coveney is on 21%, while Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is on 10%. Some 5% of those polled opted for Simon Harris, while 3% said they would like to see Paschal Donohoe take over.
It comes after a difficult week in which Fine Gael, forced to provide Independent ministers with a free vote on Mick Wallace’s abortion bill, were knocked back on a North-South forum on Brexit, and faced major leadership woes. The party was also dealt another blow yesterday morning when the Dáil struggled to reach a quorum of 20.
Responding to the poll yesterday, Mr Varadar said that his focus is firmly on his work in the Department of Social Protection. “The Taoiseach has made clear he will not lead the party in a future general election.
“This means there will be a leadership election at a future date. That will be the appropriate time to deal with the issue of the leadership of fine Gael. The vacancy won’t arise until the Taoiseach decides it should.”
This was echoed by Ms Fitzgerald who reiterated her support for Mr Kenny last night. Her spokesman said: “There is no vacancy for the Fine Gael leadership. When a vacancy arises is a decision for the Taoiseach. The Tánaiste fully respects the Taoiseach’s right to make that decision, as he has outlined already. It would be inappropriate to comment any further.”
Mr Coveney said he was certain Mr Kenny would still be leader for the budget in October, adding he is “going to be around for some time yet”. He continued: “There are many who are trying to create political storms around leadership contests and so on. I think, to be honest, that’s a distraction.”
Asked whether Mr Kenny should provide a succession timeline, Mr Coveney said: “I’m not going to start dictating to my party leader what he should be doing on these issues. I trust him to make his own judgements on these things and I expect he’ll do that.”
Earlier in the day, chief whip Regina Doherty, speaking on LMFM radio said: “It would be fair if the Taoiseach clarified this so we could get back to normal.”
She added: “Unless there’s clarification of the process laid out, there will be confusion.
“Otherwise you’re going to have me and the other 49 members of Fine Gael telling you something different until it is clarified.”
She later clarified her stance by saying she fully supports the Taoiseach.
Mr Kenny made no mention of a leadership raceor his intentions around stepping down in a weekly message to supporters last night.
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