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Who is likely to succeed Varadkar as Fine Gael leader?

Eaten bread is soon forgotten.

So, immediately after today’s bombshell announcement that Leo Varadkar is resigning as Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael, attention has quickly switched to the question of who might replace him.

Many years ago, Mr Varadkar said that he would leave politics before the age of 50 and so, in some ways today was always going to come for the now 45-year-old.

But the timing of his announcement that he will step down as party leader for “personal and political reasons” could hardly be worse.

It is just weeks until the European and Local elections on 7 June. And a general election is due within the next 12 months.

The Fine Gael party now faces the prospect of electing a new leader in advance of the party Ard Fheis on Saturday, 6 April.

With less than a month to go, who is likely to succeed Leo Varadkar as Fine Gael leader? Who will want it and who are the likely runners and riders?

Seven years ago, Leo Varadkar comprehensively beat Simon Coveney in the 2017 Fine Gael leadership vote.

Leo Varadkar replaced Enda Kenny as FG leader in 2017

Mr Varadkar secured a 59.6% share of the electoral college, compared to the 40.4% secured by Mr Coveney.

Fifty-one members of the parliamentary party voted for Mr Varadkar at the time, while Mr Coveney only secured 22 of them.

Interestingly, Mr Coveney secured almost double the support of the Fine Gael party membership in 2017. There is a view that Mr Varadkar never really won the grassroots support, especially outside Dublin.

Seven years on, Simon Coveney’s chance may have come and gone. There is a view that he was more popular within the party and among the public a few years ago.

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Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe is also a possibly successor to Mr Varadkar.

Late last year, there was speculation that he might also depart the domestic political stage and was linked with the prestigious position of Managing Director of the IMF.

Paschal Donohoe is a possible successor to Leo Varadkar

Kristalina Georgieva, who is currently in that role, now appears to be staying in the job for a second term.

Just last week, Donohoe appeared to rule himself out of the IMF role. A week certainly is a long time in politics.

The 49-year-old Dublin Central TD could now be in the frame to become Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach. One former minister said that Mr Donohoe is not as popular within the parliamentary party as he once was.

He was damaged by his performance as Fine Gael’s director of elections in the last general election. But the man dubbed ‘Prudent Paschal’ certainly cannot be ruled out.

From the day he made his maiden speech as the youngest TD in the Dáil nominating Enda Kenny as Taoiseach in 2011, any observer of Irish politics will have noticed Simon Harris has been an ambitious young man.

The Minister for Further and Higher Education has for some time been viewed as a future Fine Gael leader. Is this too early for the 37-year-old to throw his hat in the ring? Or is now the time for the Wicklow TD to make the case for this party to elect another young leader?

Simon Harris has been viewed as a future leader of Fine Gael

The fact that he is an accomplished media performer is seen as a major asset to his leadership ambitions going into a general election.

The Taoiseach was also surrounded by other possible leadership candidates when he made his announcement.

Among them were Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys. As Cabinet ministers, their names will also feature in speculation around the leadership.

Humphreys is extremely popular within Fine Gael and seen as a safe pair of hands. But if elections are won on the airwaves, would she win elections that Leo Varadkar could not win?

If the recent referendum defeats for the Government contributed to Leo Varadkar’s decision to resign, it might be odd for the party’s director of elections for these referendums on Family and Care to become leader. This could also go against Humphreys.

Heather Humphreys was director of elections for the referendums

Ms McEntee, who is close to Varadkar, was mooted as a possible future leadership candidate a few years ago, but her tough time in the justice portfolio has probably put a dent in that dream – for the time being at least. Others from the junior ministerial ranks will have leadership ambitions. Again, now may not be the time for such a move.

Leo Varadkar clearly detonated a political bombshell today.

It will take 24 to 48 hours for a shell-shocked Fine Gael party to decide where it goes from here.

When the dust settles the identity of the candidates to succeed Varadkar may become clearer.

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