A new Fine Gael Senator is expected to be appointed by the Taoiseach for the few weeks the current Seanad remains in place as it will benefit the party in upcoming elections to the Upper House.
Leo Varadkar is expected to fill the vacancy left by Frank Feighan, who was elected as a TD for Sligo-Leitrim in this month’s general election.
Some 43 Senators are elected to five vocational panels by the 160 incoming TDs, the outgoing 60 Senators and city and county councillors, a total electorate of about 1,200 people.
Having a new Senator in place to vote for the party’s candidates could make a difference to the chances of Fine Gael candidates when the Seanad election takes place next month.
Mr Feighan was one of then taoiseach Enda Kenny’s 11 nominees in 2016, and was appointed without having to contest an election. Only these Senators can be replaced without an election being required.
Party loyalists have been chosen for such appointments in the past, and the brief stint in the House comes with perks such as access for life to Leinster House, its car park and the Oireachtas members’ bar.
Appointees to Seanad vacancies in the run-up to general elections in the past have included former Fianna Fáil general secretary Martin Macken; former taoiseach Charlie Haughey’s close associate and government press secretary PJ Mara; and Amnesty International’s Colm O’Gorman, who represented the Progressive Democrats.
The appointment of a Senator in this way could also assist a candidate seeking election to the Seanad as it would raise their profile and status within the party and possibly make them more likely to pick up votes from Oireachtas colleagues and councillors.
There is considerable interest within the party about the appointment, although there has been no information from the Taoiseach’s office about a likely contender.
One Fine Gael source suggested that Mr Varadkar and his officials may not have even thought about a specific apointee yet because of the ongoing flux over government formation. However, another Fine Gael source suggested there could be “carnage” as prospective candidates seek nominations.
Candidates can run for election to one of five vocational panels by either getting an “outside” nomination from one of 110 civic society nominating organisations, or an “inside” nomination by getting the support of four Oireachtas members.
Based on the number of current Fine Gael TDs and Senators, the party can only nominate 11 inside candidates.
Fine Gael candidates are expected to include Pat Deering, who lost his Dáil seat in Carlow-Kilkenny, and Government Chief Whip Sean Kyne, who lost his Galway West seat. Other names being mentioned include former Dublin Bay South TD Kate O'Connell.
A number of Senators are retiring, including long-standing Fine Gael representative Paul Coghlan, who is standing down after 23 years in the Upper House.
The Killarney-based businessman, one of the founding directors of Radio Kerry and current director and a trustee of Muckross House, is returning to the commercial world.
The Seanad postal election takes place between March 16th and 30th with nominations from civic society groups closing on February 24th. The deadline for Oireachtas nominations is March 2nd, and the counting of votes commences on March 30th at 11am.