Taoiseach could be set to delay leadership announcement

Political expert Kevin Doyle says the upcoming leadership contest will be like nothing Fine Gael has seen before

Speculation over who will be Ireland’s next Taoiseach is continuing to build with Enda Kenny expected to announce details of when he will step down by tomorrow night.

Mr Kenny had previously indicated he would deal with his departure after last month's Brexit summit.

He has since confirmed that he will address the leadership issue at tomorrow’s Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting – however there is concern amongst party members that he may be set to prolong his tenure once again, at least until the summer break.

On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Kevin Doyle, group political editor for Independent News and Media said the Taoiseach is due to travel to the US for an official visit between June 4th and June 9th – potentially putting off any leadership contest until the summer at the earliest.

Enda's choice

“Anyone who tells you they actually know what Enda is going to do is lying to you because the truth is he has played this game; he has played cat and mouse with them and he has won,” he said. “He knows they will not push him over the edge.”

He said the leadership contest will be unlike any the Fine Gael party has previously experienced – with four special meetings planned around the country which will see the leading candidates going head-to-head.

He said the campaign will be “far more exciting” than previous leadership battles, “certainly for anyone with an interest in politics because for the first time it is going to be run like a presidential election campaign.”

“There is intrigue because it is not just a Fine Gael leader, it is a Taoiseach,” he said. “Whatever we get here will be a Taoiseach – maybe for six months, maybe for a year.”

Leadership contest

He said that the two leading candidates - Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney - will have to convince party members they are the right person to lead Ireland post-Brexit.

There are currently more politicians who have publicly declared support for Minister Varadkar – although many have yet to choose a side.

“There will be a certain amount of people in the party who are hedging their bets because everybody wants to back a winner, particularly in this scenario,” he said.

“If you want a job at the other side, you have to back the winner – that is the perception.

“In theory, Leo has more people out there known but as one of the Coveney camp said to me yesterday, a ministerial backing on paper - when you actually tick that box on the ballot - is worth exactly the same as a back bench TD or a senator.”

Ministerial influence

While high-profile ministers will begin to pledge their support for one or the other in the early stages of the campaign – the Education Minister Richard Bruton is seen as having a strong influence on the outcome.

Minister Bruton attempted to oust Enda Kenny himself in 2010 – and has yet to announce whether he will put himself forward for the leadership this time around.

Mr Doyle said the Education Minister has more experience than the two front-runners – adding that he believes his number his one priority is to retain his seat at Cabinet.

“He is not long in the Ministry for Education; he wants to stay there,” he said.

“He wants to achieve something there and he would probably argue that while there has been lots of action plans - we have not seen the results of that yet.

“I don’t think he expects to [contest the leadership] but I think he wants to put himself in prime position for a good job afterwards.”

You can listen back to the full conversation with Jonathan Healy on The Pat Kenny Show here: