Belfast Telegraph

Coveney calls for 'quick transition to a new leadership' after St Patrick's Day

One of the favourites to take over from Taoiseach Enda Kenny has called for a speedy transition in the Fine Gael leadership after St Patrick's Day.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney said Mr Kenny should go to Washington DC next month but hoped for an orderly change soon afterwards.

He and Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar are tipped to run for the leadership.

Mr Coveney told RTE's The Week In Politics: " My opinion is that the Taoiseach should go to Washington because there has been a huge amount of work in preparation for that visit and it is in the country's interest that he go.

"But I think after that visit you will see, I hope, an orderly and quite a quick transition after that to a new leadership within Fine Gael."

He added: "But I trust the Taoiseach to use his own judgment on this, he has been around a long time and my sense is that he will provide that certainty quickly."

Mr Kenny had committed last year to stepping down as Taoiseach before the next election.

He has been in the job for almost six years after leading Fine Gael since 2002 and taking the party to a landmark victory in 2011 and a second election success in a row in early 2016.

But questions over his future circulated this week amid criticism over his handling of allegations of corruption in policing and his minority coalition Government being forced to launch a public tribunal into the treatment of whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe by senior gardai.

Mr Coveney has already warned against trying to force the Taoiseach out and said ousting him would be wrong.

Mr Varadkar has said the Taoiseach will know when the time is right to step aside.

Fine Gael backbencher Alan Farrell has broken ranks to demand Mr Kenny stand down as leader, claiming his position was untenable.

There had been speculation recently that the political fallout might culminate this coming week in a vote of no confidence in Mr Kenny by his colleagues.

His close allies have defended him and said some in the parliamentary party remain loyal.

One other cabinet member who has been mentioned as a potential leadership candidate, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe, ruled himself out of any contest.

Bookmaker Paddy Power has suspended betting on the next Fine Gael leader following a string of large wagers on Mr Varadkar.

Spokesman Feilim Mac An Iomaire said: "If money talks, and it usually does, it's screaming at us that Varadkar is in pole position.

"Betters were willing to back him at any price and we've been left with no choice but to shut the market."

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