Irish leadership contest to be two-horse race

He has kept Ireland waiting far longer than initially expected, but Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s inevitable resignation finally came yesterday afternoon. The competition to succeed him both as leader of the Fine Gael party and head of the country’s minority government will be a two-horse race between Housing Minister Simon Coveney and Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.

The decision lies largely in the hands of Fine Gael’s 73 parliamentarians (TDs, Senators and MEPs) who hold 65 per cent of the votes concerned. Another 10 per cent of the votes lie with the party’s 230 local councillors, while ordinary members of the party (around 25,000) have just a 25 per cent influence. Nonetheless opinion polls will have an impact on the internal campaign as Fine Gael decision-makers look to see which candidate will have the most leverage with critical groups in the electorate. Given the length of Kenny’s procrastination, there is already plenty of polling evidence on Coveney and Varadkar’s strong and weak points.

The latest survey, a Behaviour & Attitudes poll for the Sunday Times released on 14 May, shows Varadkar to be the preferred choice for Fine Gael leader among all voters, by 25 to 20 per cent over Coveney. Education Minister Richard Bruton scored 9 per cent, while Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald achieved 5 per cent; both of them have now declined to run (Others: 5, Don’t Know: 10, No Preference: 25).

Among Fine Gael’s own voters, however, the position is reversed: Coveney leads Varadkar by five points, 33 to 28. Bruton advances to 15. That will be a consideration for the electoral college, but they are more likely to focus on the fact that Varadkar is better placed to win over new backers – he leads 30-25 among Fianna Fail sympathisers, 38-21 among Labour voters, 25-10 among Green voters, 20-12 among Sinn Fein supporters and 30-18 among Independents.

Red C’s monthly poll for the Sunday Business Post, released at the end of April, has rather different findings: perhaps because the question of not one of party leader preference, but ‘Who do you think would make the best Taoiseach?’ Varadkar leads here overall by a similar margin, 40 to 34 per cent, but this time is also ahead with his own party’s supporters, by 51 to 46. In contrast it is Coveney who is ahead among Fianna Fail backers, by 48 to 36. Again Varadkar leads among Labour, Sinn Fein and Independent voters.

On other questions, Coveney was rated the better candidate ‘to deliver the best Brexit deal for Ireland’ while all demographic groups and supporters of all parties felt Varadkar would ‘lead Irish society to be more socially liberal’. On an assessment of who is the most ‘Trustworthy and Fair’, the two were essentially neck-and-neck, although importantly Varadkar has a clear lead among Fine Gael supporters on this measure.

The daily progress of endorsements can be tracked on the Irish Times website here. It is hoped the new Taoiseach will be in place by 2 June.


Fieldwork: 27.04-09.05.2017. Released: 14.05.0217. Participants: 921. Methodology: In-home, face-to-face interviews. Full tables here.

Fieldwork: 24.04-28.04.2017. Released: 30.04.0217. Participants: 1004. Methodology: Telephone interviews. Full tables here.


FOLLOW EPR on Twitter here.

SHARE this article: