Who could be Ireland’s next leader?

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PA Media Leo Varadkar and party members speaking to media PA Media
Leo Varadkar announced his decision to step down on Wednesday

After Leo Varadkar announced his decision to step down as taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael, all eyes now turn to who will succeed him.

The Irish prime minister said he would remain as a TD, but he hoped his replacement at the top of the Irish government would take up office shortly after the Easter recess.

Nominations for a new leader will open from 10:00 local time on Thursday and close on Monday at 13:00.

An hour before nominations opened, Minister for Education Simon Harris had already passed the threshold of enough support to stand for the new leadership role.

Candidates must be nominated by at least 10% (six members) of the parliamentary party.

Simon Harris garnered the support of at least nine by Thursday morning.

If there is a contest the winner would be announced on 5 April.

This would allow them time to make their case before June’s local and European elections.

There is also the issue of the next Irish general election, which must take place by March next year.

Mr Varadkar pledged his unequivocal support to his successor during a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night.

One day on from Varadkar’s resignation, support is mounting for Simon Harris, education minister, to be his successor.

Deputy leader Simon Coveney has already ruled out the prospect of running for leadership.

The 51-year-old is currently the Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister.

Speaking on RTÉ, he said he made a decision “quite some time ago” that he would not stand in another leadership contest after losing to Mr Varadkar in 2017.

So who could be in the running to replace Leo Varadkar?

Simon Harris

PA Media Simon HarrisPA Media

A name that has been mentioned often as a future Fine Gael leader is Simon Harris TD, and support for him has been mounting.

Fine Gael Minister of State Neale Richmond told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme that he would “absolutely be backing” Simon Harris, while eight others have also supported him.

“Simon Harris is the best person for the job,” Mr Richmond said.

The 37-year-old, currently the Minister for Further & Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, is the early favourite with many bookmakers.

He would be another young leader, following Leo Varadkar who was appointed taoiseach aged 38.

Mr Harris was the youngest member of the 31st Dáil at the age of 24 and became Health Minister in 2016.

There he led the department during a change in Ireland’s abortion law and at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic as emergency lockdown measures were introduced.

Paschal Donohoe

PA Media Paschal DonohoePA Media

Aside from Harris, another figure who could be in the contest for the leadership role is Paschal Donohoe – the current Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform.

The 49-year-old Dubliner is a former finance and transport minister.

He has also been president of the Eurogroup since 2020.

The informal body brings together ministers from the eurozone area to discuss issues relating to the currency.

Heather Humphreys

PA Media Heather HumphreysPA Media

Heather Humphreys has served in various cabinet positions since 2014 and is currently the Minister for Rural and Community Development as well as Minister for Social Protection.

Born in the village of Drum, County Monaghan, in 1963, Ms Humphreys is Protestant and before politics was manager of a credit union.

Speaking ahead of the Easter Rising commemorations in 2016 she said, “Given my background as a Protestant and an Ulsterwoman who is a proud Irish republican, I appreciate the need to respect the differing traditions on this island.”

If she became taoiseach she would be the first Protestant to hold the post.

Helen McEntee

PA Media  Helen McEntee PA Media

Helen McEntee was also on the prospective list for taoiseach.

However she has said that she will not stand for the leadership of Fine Gael.

She told LMFM Radio on Thursday morning that it was “not the right time” for her.

She became a TD at the age of 26, succeeding her father after he took his own life.

The 37-year-old Navan native has been a TD since 2013 and is currently the Justice Minister.

Last year she survived a motion of no confidence following the Dublin riots in November, while there has also been a heated debate about hate speech legislation.

As it happened: Varadkar steps down

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