It did not take very long for Fine Gaelers to come out and champion who they believe should succeed Enda Kenny as leader of their party and as Taoiseach of Ireland.
In the hours and days after Mr Kenny’s announcement, a steady stream of party members came out in support of both Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, with Frances Fitzgerald and Richard Bruton both opting out of the race in its infancy.
And it was Varadkar who quickly amassed a considerable lead over Coveney, with 45 per cent of Fine Gael TDs, Senators and MEPs declaring support for him against his opponent’s 20 per cent (as of Wednesday ).
Locally, Athlone-based Senator Gabrielle McFadden lent her support to Minister Coveney. Senator McFadden said Mr Coveney’s experience as an MEP, of negotiating on behalf of Ireland in Europe, and in his position as Minister for Agriculture and Minster for Housing stand him in good stead to take the reins as the next Taoiseach.
Deputy Peter Burke has backed Minister Varadkar. Speaking about Varadkar’s record as Minister for Social Protection, his willingness to converse with members of the Dáil, party and public, and his strong standing in the party, Deputy Burke said Varadkar is the man to lead the party and country forward.
Deputy Burke said Varadkar’s pro-Europe and pro-business stance puts him in the mould of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. With an opportunity to break the boom-bust cycle, “Leo Varadkar is the man to lead us in this charge”, he added.
Local Fine Gael councillor Tom Farrell, who will be out of the country at the time of the vote and so cannot play his part in electing a new leader, said he would be happy with either candidate: “I think they are two very capable candidates but two totally different candidates as well. As a member of Fine Gael, you would be happy to have either man at the head of the party,” he commented.
Athlone Mayor John Dolan said he will attend the hustings in Ballinasloe on Saturday and is keeping an open mind for now.
“We are fortunate to have two good candidates. My decision will be based on what I see and hear at the debates and over the coming days and weeks,” he said.