Leo’s shock exit…

Fine Gael targets election bounce

With little or no time for sentiment in politics, Fine Gael strategists are quickly turning their attention to this summer’s double-election challenge in the aftermath of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s shock resignation announcement.

While the Fine Gael leader’s decision to step down has led to many glowing tributes to one of the country’s leading political figures of the last decade, a pragmatic party also sees the imminent change of leadership as an opportunity to boost their standing going into a series of key electoral tests. County Council and European Parliament elections will be held in June.

In County Roscommon, Fine Gael will be hoping that the appointment of a new leader injects momentum into the party’s bid to rebuild its traditional strong representation at County Council level. After a dismal showing in the 2019 local elections, only two Fine Gael councillors were elected to the 18-strong Council.

In his shock resignation speech – delivered shortly after 12 noon on Wednesday – Leo Varadkar said that he believes “loyal colleagues and good friends” who are contesting the local and European elections will have a better chance under a new leader.

In Wednesday’s unexpected announcement, which stunned the public, Mr Varadkar (45) said he was stepping down with immediate effect as President and Leader of Fine Gael, and would resign as Taoiseach as soon as his successor is able to take up that office.

Fine Gael will elect a new leader by early April, and that person will be in line to be ratified as new Taoiseach by members of the Dáil.

Early front-runners include senior Fine Gael ministers Paschal Donohoe and Simon Harris, with Helen McEntee and Heather Humphreys also possible contenders. The party’s Deputy Leader, Simon Coveney, has ruled himself out.