McEntee rules herself out of running for Fine Gael leadership

Minister for Justice and Meath East TD Helen McEntee has has ruled herself out of the running to become the next leader of Fine Gael.

Speaking to LMFM this mornning Ms McEntee said: “This is a decision I suppose I probably made a year or two ago, that if this was to come up in the near future or the immediate future, that it’s not something that I’d be putting myself forward for.”

She added she will support whoever puts themselves forward for nomination as party leader.

Members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party have this morning begun to publicly back Minister Simon Harris to be the next leader following Leo Varadkar's shock decision to step down yesterday.

Minister of State Neale Richmond, Senator Barry Ward and MEPs Frances Fitzgerald and Maria Walsh are among the first to declare their support.

Nominations for candidates opened at 10 o'clock this morning.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's resignation on Wednesday came as a shock to many people, and a lot of his colleagues.

He informed his fellow Coalition leaders Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan on Tuesday night.

An emotional Varadkar confirmed the news in a speech on Wednesday afternoon, adding that he will stay on until his party has chosen a successor.

It brings many questions around the next leader of the country, what it means for the Coalition, and whether it will bring about the next general election.

Minister for Justice Here, we answer some of those questions.

Who will take over?

Mr Varadkar said Fine Gael will make a quick decision on his successor.

“I have asked our party general secretary and Executive Council to provide for the new leader to be elected in advance of the Ard Fheis on Saturday, April 6th,” he said in his speech.

The Executive Council will meet tonight to set up a timeline for a new leader.

It is likely there will be a leadership contest.

Simon Harris, Simon Coveney, Paschal Donohoe, Helen McEntee and Jennifer Carroll MacNeill could all be contenders.

When will the new Taoiseach be confirmed?

Fine Gael aim to have a new leader in place for the Ard Fheis on Saturday, April 6th. That means a new Taoiseach could be elected in the Dáil on Tuesday, April 9th.

A simple majority is required, so this should not be a problem for Government provided no more cracks in the Coalition emerge.

How long will the new Taoiseach be in place?

A general election has to be called by March 2025.

Mr Varadkar indicated his successor would have a year before then. Meanwhile, Tánaiste Micheál Martin also insisted the Government would fulfill its mandate.

This suggests it will be just over a year, but various dates have been suggested for when a general election may be called. These include the summer, and November 2024 after the next budget.

Whether Mr Varadkar's resignation will change that remains to be seen.

Will the local and European elections affect the next leader?

The first test for the new leader will be the local and European elections on June 7th.

It's an unenviable position as they will only have a couple of months to prepare, and a poor showing from Government parties could lead to calls for a general election to be called.

Will this mean an earlier general election?

The Government has insisted it will not.

However, pressure from Opposition will only increase with party leaders including Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Féin) and Holly Cairns (Social Democrats) among the early voices calling for an imminent general election.

What really matters is public perception, and if calls for an election start to impact political polls, all bets are off.