Fine Gael leadership contest may be sped up amid snap election

Vote could be restricted to parliamentary party members to reduce timeframe

Government chief whip Regina Doherty has said there “was a deal done” during the Government formation talks to have an accelerated contest. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Government chief whip Regina Doherty has said there “was a deal done” during the Government formation talks to have an accelerated contest. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

An accelerated Fine Gael leadership contest in the event of a snap general election is still on the cards, despite the reservations of one of the leading contenders to succeed Enda Kenny.

Ministers and party officials have discussed possible options to have a speeded-up contest. The election of a leader can normally take up to three weeks with all Fine Gael members having a vote.

However, Minster for Housing Simon Coveney has said he did not believe such a scenario would arise, adding that he wanted the “agreed process” to apply.

Party sources said all eventualities have been considered. Ministers who are not candidates might be able to persuade the contenders about how best to run the process if there is a snap election, they said.

Government chief whip Regina Doherty has said there “was a deal done” during the Government formation talks to have an accelerated contest.

Sources have said that while nothing formal has been decided, there were discussions with Ministers about how to organise such a rapid contest. The Taoiseach has already said he will not lead Fine Gael into another general election.

One of the options is to restrict the vote to choose a new leader to TDs, Senators and MEPs if all leadership candidates agreed. The losers in this parliamentary party ballot would withdraw from the contest.

This would mean that, technically, only one candidate would be formally nominated and the party’s executive council would not have to initiate the lengthy leadership contest process.

If there is only one candidate, the wider membership does not have to be consulted – as happened in the Labour Party last year when the parliamentary party effectively decided Brendan Howlin would be leader because Alan Kelly failed to get a seconder from TDs.

This scenario is unlikely in Fine Gael, given Mr Coveney’s wish for the contest to follow the rules set down by the party.

Executive council

Another option is to speed up the contest by holding a special party conference, attended by the elected representatives and rank-and-file members, over a weekend or a single day. This could see all ballots cast at the one event. It would have to be sanctioned and organised by the executive council.

Senior party figures have said all eventualities have been prepared for, and Ministers who are not candidates could persuade those seeking the leadership of how best to run the process if there is a snap election.

Under party rules, the leadership election is carried out under an electoral college system which gives all members a vote but still gives the largest say to the parliamentary party. The votes of TDs, senators and MEPs account for 65 per cent of weighted votes, with the rank and file membership accounting for 25 per cent and councillors 10 per cent.

It will be carried out by secret ballot and under the alternative vote system, which is a system of preferential voting used where there is only one position to fill.

TDs and senators would cast their votes at a special parliamentary party meeting convened by the chairman of the parliamentary party, who is currently Kildare South TD Martin Heydon.

Rank and file members and councillors will cast their ballots at designated centres on a date decided by the executive council. This date must be within 20 days of a leadership vacancy arising.

Candidates must be nominated by 10 per cent of the parliamentary party, which currently means seven TDs or senators.

Nominations close within a week of the vacancy arising and regional events, likely to include hustings, are organised by the executive council to take place between day 10 and day 18 of the contest. The executive council will also appoint a national returning officer.

It is understood that all ballots would be counted on the same day, likely to be the day after the rank and file members have voted, in Fine Gael headquarters in Dublin.