Richard Bruton could offer refuge to Enda Kenny-ites

Political Editor Daniel McConnell takes a look at the often forgotten names that could easily take over Fine Gael leadership.

It is a two-horse race: Leo or Simon. It is closer than everyone thought. It will go down to the wire, we hear.

All the weekend papers appeared to conclude the above points, but then why, oh why, do we hear talk of other candidates? Names, such as Paschal Donohoe, Simon Harris, Frances Fitzgerald, and Richard Bruton, have been swirling around since Friday.

Contrary to reports that he was angry about Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan’s Whatsapp gaffe on Sunday, Harris can only be delighted with the publicity he has garnered from it.

By refusing to rule himself out definitively — as Donohoe has done — Harris is now considered a contender, but one suspects this has more to do with putting down a marker for the future than any genuine hope of competing this time around.

Bruton, who failed to unseat Enda Kenny in 2010, also refused to rule himself out.

“I haven’t commented on the leadership. I want to discuss with colleagues where this country is going. We need to sit down as a party. We know change is coming,” said the education minister, who is a potential spoiler in the two-horse race between Coveney and Varadkar.

As of now, Donohoe is not in the running, despite his wide appeal as a compromise candidate.

In his absence, Bruton could take on that mantle. He could become the one many displaced Kenny-ites could try and cling to for refuge from the winds of change.

The presence of a third viable candidate in the race would hurt Coveney more than Varadkar.

The former is hoping to attract most of the support that could leak to a third candidate. These are the people in Fine Gael who have done reasonably well under Kenny — being rewarded with a junior ministry or a committee chairmanship, for example, — who could do business with the man from Cork South Central.

On the other hand, those plumping for the Dublin West minister for social protection are the ones seeking change in the party, the ones Kenny has shunned for other, possibly less talented but, importantly, more loyal TDs and senators.

Varadkar, being his own man, for example, could easily pluck the likes of John Deasy, the Waterford TD, out of the wilderness and put him in Cabinet.

Deasy, like Varadkar, is a straight shooter and has been Kenny’s arch critic.

Despite being head and shoulders above several of those who currently find themselves in Cabinet, Deasy has been exiled by a vengeful Kenny.

Deasy is one example, but there are plenty of others who are hoping a jump to either Varadkar or Coveney will kickstart their careers.

However, the constant talk of other candidates does reflect the fact that there is a rump of people within Fine Gael who don’t want either of the front runners to lead the party.

Hence, our lead story on Saturday, which said Donohoe had been approached to reconsider his refusal to stand. It explains why Bruton is toying with the idea of standing, despite, in 2010, having led the most disastrous heave.

There is a resentment from some in the upper echelons of Fine Gael that the two young-ish pups, Simon and Leo, are acting as if they are entitled to the leadership and they want to disrupt that scenario.

A lot hangs on what Kenny says to his party tomorrow night.

However, a long, bitter civil war is guaranteed if he decides not to bow to the inevitable and avail of the chance to leave with some grace.

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