Fine Gael’s choice for leader, a question of Coveney or Varadkar?

‘Irish Times’/Ipsos MRBI poll confirms the public is prepared to give ‘new politics’ a chance even if politicians are losing patience with it

The contest to replace Enda Kenny will be a significant national event because the victor will not simply be the new leader of Fine Gael but the next Taoiseach. It is already developing into a two-horse race, according to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll which shows that Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar are the only potential candidates with significant levels of public support.

When presented with six candidates Mr Varadkar had a slight edge among voters but when the race was narrowed to the two leading contenders, Mr Coveney had the advantage. Probably the most significant finding of all is that Mr Coveney is five points ahead among Fine Gael supporters. Given that the party membership will have a vote this could prove significant.

It is striking how the two candidates appeal to different segments of the electorate. Mr Varadkar has a lead among voters under 34 and is ahead in Dublin while Mr Coveney is well ahead among the over 65s and voters in Munster. Fine Gael’s elected representatives and members will have to decide whether to play it safe and chose a leader who appeals to their base or take a risk on one who may widen the party’s appeal.

There has been considerable unease in sections of the Fine Gael parliamentary party about that the arrangement with Fianna Fáil that facilitated the formation of the minority government but the poll indicates that the public approves of the arrangement with Fine Gael supporters the most enthusiastic of all.


Asked if they thought the arrangement was better or worse for politics 30 per cent of people though it better while 27 per cent said it was worse and the remaining 43 per thought it made no difference or had no opinion.

Fine Gael supporters were more positive about the arrangement than anybody else. Fianna Fáil supporters were not as enthusiastic but still backed the arrangement. The message from the poll is that the public is still prepared to give the “new politics” a chance even if some of the politicians who put the arrangement in place are beginning to lose patience with it.