Leo Varadkar ‘honoured’ to be elected Fine Gael leader

Dublin West TD says election proved prejudice has no hold in this Republic

In his first press conference as Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar outlined his hopes for dealing with Brexit, his plans on maintaining the current government and a timeline on a referendum on the Eight amendment.

The new Fine Gael leader, Leo Varadkar, has insisted he will not call an early general election if the Dáil elects him to succeed Enda Kenny as taoiseach.

In an emotional speech after winning the Fine Gael leadership contest against Simon Coveney, the Dublin West TD said his victory demonstrated prejudice had no hold in this Republic and Ireland did not discriminate on the basis of origin and identity.

Mr Varadkar said he hoped his success would show young children they can dream big.

“I hope any child growing up looks at me and my unlikely story and my background and believe there is no office in this State that they cannot aspire to, nothing you cannot do if they believe in themselves.”


Mr Varadkar, the 38-year old Minister for Social Protection, won the leadership by taking 60 per cent of the vote in a weighted ballot in which the parliamentary party had 65 per cent of the total vote, the rank-and-file party membership had 25 per cent and councillors had 10 per cent.

He secured 35 per cent in the membership ballot, 55 per cent of the councillor vote and, crucially, he received 51 of the 73 votes cast by members of the parliamentary party.

Mr Varadkar praised Mr Coveney for his campaign and said the two of them would sit down and discuss the future of the party on Saturday.

Asked about his defeat in the ballot of rank-and-file members of Fine Gael, Mr Varadkar said Mr Coveney won the admiration of the members by showing grit and resilience to stay in the contest.

Uniting membership

He insisted he would seek to unite the Fine Gael membership behind his leadership and give them a decision-making role once again.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged there would be significant competition for Cabinet portfolios but said he would not be in a position to satisfy all those seeking a new job. He said he did not offer anybody a job in the event of winning and did not authorise any of his campaign team to do so.

Talks with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and the Independent members of Government will take place next week. He said there would be no renegotiation of the confidence-and-supply agreement with Fianna Fáil. He would honour the deal for three budgets and was committed to maintaining the programme for partnership Government with the Independent Ministers.

“The agreements are there and they stand. We will honour what is in those documents but that should not be the limit.”

His policy priorities would be Brexit and the position of Northern Ireland, the public sector pay deal and the new capital programme.

Eighth Amendment

He said he envisaged a referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. However he could not say whether it would be the first referendum he would oversee as taoiseach.

The Minister was surrounded by his family and partner Matthew Barrett as he was announced as the new party leader.

Outgoing Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster and British prime minister Theresa May were among the first to contact him with their congratulations.

Mr Coveney said he did not like losing but was humbled by the support he had received, in particular from the party membership. “This has been a good process for the party. Now we need to come together right behind him. I think he will be a great leader. I will be right behind him.”

Enda Kenny is set to remain Taoiseach for the coming days. The new Fine Gael leader will need to hold talks with the Independent TDs supporting Fine Gael and also with Fianna Fáil on maintaining the confidence and supply agreement which underpins the Government.

The Dáil will then vote to elect a new Taoiseach. After that, the expectation is that the new Taoiseach will reshuffle the Cabinet.