Leo Varadkar ready to launch leadership campaign

Leo Varadkar

Fine Gael leadership contender Leo Varadkar and his team are ready to immediately launch his election bid if Taoiseach Enda Kenny only signals when he may resign at a party meeting today.

A senior member of Mr Varadkar’s campaign team told the Irish Examiner that if Mr Kenny stops short of resigning and instead signals when he will go that this is enough to start the race.

“Look at what happened with [David] Cameron once he announced he was going, it triggered the Tory race the next day,” said a Varadkar strategist.

Speculation has mounted that Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach Enda Kenny may not announce he is resigning as party leader at a parliamentary meeting in Leinster House this evening.

Mr Kenny had flagged last week that he would address the leadership issue this week at the same meeting, following media questioning as well as pressure for him to resign in recent months, including from his own TDs.

Mr Kenny had told a party meeting last February that he would address the issue of the Fine Gael leadership “effectively and conclusively” after visiting the US for St Patrick’s Day celebrations. 

He then later said it would be addressed after the April 29 EU summit and most recently told reporters in Brussels last month that he would “soon” tell his party.

Government figures have mixed views about what he may or may not announce today. Members think he may resign while others, including some close to him, believe the Mayo man may instead point to or specify a later date at which he could step down as party leader.

Mr Kenny this week signalled he would be travelling to the US in June as part of an Enterprise Ireland trade mission. Furthermore, his supporters believe the two-time Taoiseach wants to represent Ireland at an EU summit on June 22 where Brexit talks will be centre stage.

But campaigns to succeed him have been well under way in recent weeks for Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney.

Mr Coveney received the backing from another Fine Gael AGM in Cork this week for the leadership while Mr Varadkar’s team are anxious to allow parliamentarians to show their support, which they claim will effectively show he is in the lead to take over. 

But his team are ready to launch his campaign if Mr Kenny tonight only gives an indication that he intends to go rather than resigning.

“This is what happened with Cameron,” said a senior team member. “We are ready to go.”

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has not ruled out running in any race. 

“It’s something I’ve given very serious consideration to, there isn’t any vacancy at present and once the Taoiseach announces his intention I’ll make my view known,” she told RTÉ.

It was confirmed last night that the Taoiseach will lead an Enterprise Ireland trade mission to Chicago from June 4 to 6. He will return to Ireland on June 7 . 

This would have him back in the country in time for the results of the leadership contest, should he trigger it tonight by announcing a date for departure.

It too has been suggested that he would like to remain on as Taoiseach to attend the next EU summit in Brussels on June 22, but this was not confirmed by his office.

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