Fine Gael officially confirms leadership candidates

Ministers Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar have been nominated to replace Enda Kenny

Fine Gael officially confirms leadership candidates

File photo: Simon Coveney (left), Enda Kenny (centre) and Leo Varadkar (right), 17-02-2010. Image: Mark Stedman/RollingNews

Fine Gael has officially announced the two candidates that will face off to become the party’s next leader.

There was no surprise as it was confirmed that the Housing Minster Simon Coveney and the Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar have been nominated for the position.

Minister Varadkar has opened up a powerful early lead in terms of enlisting the support of party members, leading some commentators to suggest the race could be over before it has begun.

Earlier today, Minster Coveney sparked speculation that he may pull out of the race – when he cancelled an event at this constituency office this afternoon.

However in the hours since he has sent out a tweet to say he is looking forward to his campaign rally in Cork City this evening.

Earlier, Minister Varadkar officially launched his campaign – confirming the support of 45 of the 73 members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party.

He insisted he wants the campaign to continue – adding that he is looking forward to outlining his vision to Fine Gael councillors and members.

Minister Varadkar also has the support of the vast majority of Cabinet after the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald confirmed she would be backing his campaign this morning.

Speaking at the campaign launch, Minister Fitzgerald said the 38-year-old had blazed a trail in politics since he joined Young Fine Gael 20 years ago.

No room for complacency

Junior ministers Michael Ring and Catherine Byrne also came out in support of Minister Varadkar today – however he warned supporters that there is still no room for complacency.

“It is not over,” he said. “It is only day three of the campaign and I have studied politics for long enough to know how things can change and change back again in any campaign.”

“There is no complacency for me or from any of my supporters; I am very keen that this contest should continue.

“It was my proposal to allow councillors and members to have a say – I want them to have a say and I want this campaign to continue.”

People who get up in the morning

The Varadkar campaign is running with the motto 'courage to take us forward.'

He told the gathering that he wanted Fine Gael to be the party for “people who get up early in the morning” adding that "politics has to be about making real things happen." 

Healing division

Launching his own campaign yesterday, Minister Coveney pledged "honesty" and "big ideas", saying the party now needs to "rebuild a strong society in Ireland."

"For me, I'm in politics to be positive, to be constructive," he told reporters. "I want to lead a party and lead a country that can heal many of the divisions that have opened up over the last decade or so.”

The campaign will see both candidates going head-to-head in four regional hustings around the country next week.

The gatherings will allow the candidates to address the rank and file membership of the party – and outline the policies they will take into Leinster House as party leader and, at least for a time, Taoiseach of the country.

The four hustings will take place in Dublin, Carlow, Galway and Cork and will be streamed live on Facebook.

Almost 21,000 eligible party members will take to the polls between Monday 29th of May and Thursday 1st June – with a result expected on Friday June 2nd.