What are the rules governing election of Enda Kenny’s successor?

Fine Gael’s party constitution has clear protocols around the ballot for its leader

To be eligible to vote, rank-and-file members must have held membership of the party in 2016 and 2017. Fine Gael officials say there are about 25,000 entitled to cast their ballot.

To be eligible to vote, rank-and-file members must have held membership of the party in 2016 and 2017. Fine Gael officials say there are about 25,000 entitled to cast their ballot.

 

While the system by which the next leader of Fine Gael is elected is set down in the party constitution, the exact timetabling of the election contest has yet to be fully decided by the party’s executive council.

Party insiders believe it will be the largest private election ever run in the history of the State – and certainly one where postal voting is not allowed, with about 25,000 rank-and-file members entitled to vote.

It will be the first time either of the big two political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, have undertaken such a process. Fine Gael introduced these rules after Enda Kenny became leader in 2002 and Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin has introduced a similar system since assuming the leadership of his party in 2011.

The system was not triggered the last time the leadership arose in Fine Gael because Mr Kenny saw off the challenge to dislodge him in 2010.

The Fine Gael race will be decided by an electoral college divided into three parts – broken down by parliamentary party, councillors and party members – of differing voting strength.

The post-2002 reforms ensured the parliamentary party – those who will work closest with the party leader – will have the biggest say. TDs, Senators and MEPs command 65 per cent of the voting strength.

Given that there are 73 members of the parliamentary party at present, each member represents 0.9 per cent of the total electorate.

There are about 230 Fine Gael councillors around the country, but their voting bloc, at 10 per cent in total, is nowhere near as strong as members of the parliamentary party. Each councillor counts for just over 0.04 per cent of the total vote.

Rank and file

In order to be eligible to vote, rank-and-file members must have held membership of the party in 2016 and 2017. In recent weeks, Fine Gael officials have finalised their databases of those eligible to vote and say there are about 25,000 people entitled to cast their ballot. With a total voting weight of 25 per cent for members, each ordinary member of the party is worth 0.00001 per cent of the electoral college.

The votes will be cast in the same manner as a presidential election, which is the alternative vote system. This basically operates in a similar fashion to the single transferable vote used for general election, although there is only one position to be filled and not a number of parliamentary seats, as there are in multiseat Dáil constituencies.

In effect, there will be three different counts in the three separate Fine Gael colleges that will then produce a weighted total at the end of the first count. If there are three or more candidates and votes have to be distributed following elimination, the votes will be distributed on a weighted basis.

For example, if a candidate’s total vote includes six members of the parliamentary party, those votes will be distributed according to their weight.

Candidates for leadership must be TDs and can only enter the race if their nomination papers are signed by 10 per cent of the parliamentary party, which, right now, means eight TDs, Senators or MEPs.

The party’s executive council will decide the exact rules of the contest at a special meeting soon after Mr Kenny has stood down, although preparations have been under way for some time.

A smaller ethics committee will also attempt to ensure the contest is run in as clean a manner as possible.

The party constitution says a new leader must be in place within 20 days of a vacancy arising, although it allows some leeway to the executive council in scheduling the contest.

Three-day window

Thus far, Fine Gael has agreed a broad outline of how the campaign will be run. There will be a three-day window for candidates to secure their required number of nominations but this can be extended. The Fine Gael constitution allows for a full week.

It is envisaged that there will be a week or so of official inactivity following the close of nominations, if the closing date falls this weekend.

Nothing, on a party level, will take place for one week. There will be four regional hustings, pencilled in to run across the weekend of the following week. There will be one each in Dublin, Cork, the midlands and the west, taking place on the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. There may be a break between the debates, however.

As of now, there will not be a special televised debate in a broadcast studio between the contenders. The debates will be live streamed by Fine Gael and consideration is being given to having an independent moderator, such as a respected journalist.

Regional voting – there will be 28 polling stations around the country, as well as one in Brussels – will then happen in the days after the hustings, according to the latest timetable proposed by party officials.

Under this timetable, the crucial ballot of the parliamentary party, which comprises 65 per cent of the electoral college that chooses the Fine Gael leader, will take place in Leinster House on the Friday of the June bank holiday weekend, after regional voting has concluded.

The ballot boxes from the regional voting stations will be taken to a special count centre elsewhere in Dublin, along with the votes cast by TDs, Senators and MEPs.

The count will take place on the bank holiday Friday, with members of the media allowed to conduct tallies as the boxes are opened and votes counted.

It is then anticipated that the winner will be announced just in time for the main evening news bulletins.