Enda Kenny successor depends if party is ruled by its head or its heart

Next Thursday, we are likely to see both men relocate en masse with their teams to some swanky hotel near the Dáil to announce their candidacy, writes Daniel McConnell.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny stood before his party colleagues in their parliamentary party on the fifth floor in Leinster House.

It was midweek and he addressed the assembled TDs and Senators about his trip to Canada, and he also spoke about Michel Barnier’s visit to Ireland.

At the end of his address, he slipped it in. He finally mentioned the one and only thing anyone cared about.

In a jibe to the effusive nature of his party and it s capacity to leak with lightning pace, he said: “I hope the texters get this right...”

With everyone on edge at this stage, he lowered his voice and said: “I will address this PP meeting next week with respect to the Fine Gael leadership.”

Without directly using the word leadership, Kenny told those present that he would deal with the speculation “fully next week”.

So, after four blatant delays, we now have an identifiable date for when Kenny will announce his departure and allow the formal commencement of the race to succeed him.

If you were to believe supporters of Leo Varadkar, he is miles ahead and only has to avoid messing up to secure victory in the parliamentary party, among councillors and the ordinary membership — the three groups which will decide who the next leader is.

Meanwhile, Coveney’s camp have poured cold water on a recent RTE survey which suggested Varadkar is ahead by 10 in the parliamentary party, with half of members declared.

His supporters say their man is ahead. They say that Coveney will have the edge in terms of senators and MEPs and will split the TDs down the middle. They also say the location, age profile and nature of the councillors means they too are more likely to back Coveney.

Varadkar’s supporters have said he has the X factor which can win them more seats than Coveney which could deliver the party an unprecedented third term in office.

In response, Coveney’s camp say running the country is not X Factor, it is not showbusiness. They say that when push comes to shove, the realisation that Coveney is better at running the country will sway the members.

They also point to the fact that several polls have said that either Coveney or Varadkar will deliver a bounce to Fine Gael, so those already in place are likely to keep their seats.

“Such a fact means that much of Leo’s claim to victory is nullified. Coveney too, based on the latest polls, will see most, if not all TDs returned and more. Then it becomes a matter of who is better at running the country. That clearly is Simon,” one senior Coveney strategist told me.

Whether you believe Leo is ahead or Simon has the edge, it is clear both teams are chomping at the bit to get started in terms of open campaigning.

Varadkar let the mask slip on radio by suggesting the gap is bigger than what RTÉ’s Martina Fitzgerald reported.

A hint of arrogance was evident and it is certainly far too early to be thinking that way.

While the heart of many in Fine Gael may wish to plump for Varadkar, one suspects that the head says Coveney.

Next Thursday, we are likely to see both men relocate en masse with their teams to some swanky hotel near the Dáil to announce their candidacy.

Glossy pictures will be unveiled, there may even be videos.

The media, giddy for the contest, will have a field day. The public, I suspect, may tire very quickly with it all.

But both men will need some early heavyweight declarations of support to gain some momentum.

They will both also be wary of how a bad start to a campaign can spell disaster to an entire campaign.

Just look at Enda Kenny in the 2016 general election.

Let the fun begin.

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