Battle lines drawn as Fine Gael members declare leadership favourites

Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar are gearing up for a short race

Battle lines drawn as Fine Gael members declare leadership favourites

Leo Varadkar (right) and Simon Coveney at Dublin Castle in 2016 | Image: RollingNews.ie

The national executive of Fine Gael has been meeting to finalise plans for the upcoming leadership contest.

On day one of the campaign, Leo Varadkar has taken a significant lead over his rival Simon Coveney on declarations from the Parliamentary Party.

Earlier 12 TDs declared their support for Mr Varadkar to succeed Enda Kenny, who stepped down on Wednesday.

These are:

  • Colm Brophy TD, Dublin South West
  • Peter Burke TD, Longford Westmeath
  • Ciaran Cannon TD, Galway East
  • Michael D’Arcy TD, Wexford
  • Pat Deering TD, Carlow Kilkenny
  • Brendan Griffin TD, Kerry
  • Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs & Natural Resources, Sean Kyne TD, Galway West
  • Josepha Madigan TD, Dublin/Rathdown
  • Minister for Mental Health and Older People, Helen McEntee TD, Meath East
  • Minister of State for the Diaspora & International Development, Joe McHugh.
  • Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Eoghan Murphy TD, Dublin Bay South
  • John Paul Phelan TD, Carlow Kilkenny

The campaign will be short, with Mr Kenny saying he wants a new leader in place no later than the close of business on June 2nd.

Mr Varadkar also launched a website, which says he will officially launch his campaign on Saturday.

Earlier, Housing Simon Coveney launched his Fine Gael leadership bid saying that he pledges "honesty" and "big ideas", saying the party now needs to "rebuild a strong society in Ireland".

Health Minister Simon Harris was among those who showed their support for Mr Coveney.

Mr Harris said: "He has proven himself, time and time again, to be a man who can bring people together and build alliances to deliver results on the issues that matter to people."

While former Health Minister James Reilly has also given his backing to Mr Coveney.

Senator Reilly, who has stepped down as deputy leader of the Fine Gael party, told Newstalk Drive Mr Coveney is the right man to lead the party.

"He's got tremendous experience, he's got tremendous collegiality, a sense of teamwork and a hard worker.

"But he's also not afraid to take on the hard issues - take on housing, take on Irish Water.

"He's a very good negotiator: he's polite but he's firm, he's not antagonistic".

Junior Minister Sean Kyne told Newstalk Drive Mr Varadkar has "some very strong qualities".

"People like his direct approach, his honesty, his say-it-as-it-is attitude and I think he has that something different that it's hard to pinpoint that people like, that people respect.

"I wouldn't like to say he's the new Garret Fitzgerald for Fine Gael, but I think he has that potential to be".

And Junior Minister Helen McEntee says Mr Varadkar reflects a "generational change".

"We are a changing nation, we're a young population with the second youngest in Europe.

"I think in any country it's the young people that demand change... and I think Leo Varadkar is that person to bring about the generational change - not just for our country, but I think for our party as well".

Additional reporting: Kenneth Fox and Jack Quann