DUBLIN, Ireland - A day after Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced that he would be stepping down as the head of the Fine Gael Party - a leadership race has begun for the next head of the government.
At a meeting of the Fine Gael party on Thursday, a choice will be made for Kenny’s replacement, even as the outgoing Taoiseach has said that he would stay on until his successor is chosen.
Meanwhile, reports speculated that minister for social protection Leo Varadkar, and minister for housing Simon Coveney are the two frontrunners to be the country’s next Taoiseach.
On Thursday, Coveney handed in his nomination papers at Fine Gael headquarters in Dublin.
After Fine Gael’s ruling body, its executive council finalists its plans for the party’s leadership race and a successor is chosen, the winner will have to face a Dail vote to become Taoiseach.
Meanwhile, Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Education Richard Bruton and Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan have said they will not stand for the leadership.
Fitzgerald, addressing speculations about her entering the race said in a statement that she had "seriously considered" going for the job but confirmed she had now "decided that entering the contest is not the right decision for me.”
She also paid tribute to Kenny and said it had been "a privilege and honour to serve at his side.”
She added, “His work on behalf of the country and our party has been immense and extraordinary.”
Bruton meanwhile, declared that he would now support Varadkar's bid to become the next party leader.
He also noted that he believed his friend would be a decisive, reforming leader who had the capacity to deliver change and bring people with him.
Candidates have been set a Saturday evening deadline to get eight nominations from the 73 members of Fine Gael's parliamentary party to enter the contest.
Four hustings will take place around the country from Thursday to Sunday after which four days of polling of councillors and party members in around 25 locations nationwide will be held.
The parliamentary party will vote on June 2 following which Kenny's successor will be announced.
On Thursday, Fine Gael chairman Martin Heydon said, “Anybody who wants to be nominated will need 10 percent of the parliamentary party to nominate them, and by Saturday evening we'll know how many runners are in the field.”
Commenting on Kenny’s request to the executive council to "expedite the process" and chose a new party leader by June 2, Heydon said, this meant the timescale would be tighter, but would be manageable.
He also noted, “If we have a new leader of Fine Gael appointed on 2 June, the Dáil doesn't sit until the following week, for the June bank holiday, so there would be a 10-day period there before the Dáil would be back."
Heydon added, "We have a lot of partners in government - between the Independent Alliance, our supply and confidence arrangement with Fianna Fáil. And I think that it is right that a new leader coming in would be given the time and space to be able to consult all of those parties, let them known their vision and our plans, to get that process in place."
After months of speculation about the future of Fine Gael leadership, following a meeting with party lawmakers on Wednesday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced that he would be stepping down.
Kenny, who has led the center-right Fine Gael for 15 years and has been Taoiseach for six years now, said that he would remain as interim party leader until a successor is elected by June 2.
Over the last few months, Kenny has been under pressure to resign from factions within his own party that are dissatisfied with his leadership.
Further, his leadership has been undermined following widespread criticism of his handling of a series of scandals involving An Garda Síochána.
However, he now leaves the Fine Gael leadership as the party's most successful taoiseach.
In his announcement, Kenny said, “I would like to stress the huge honour and privilege that it has been for me to lead our party for the past 15 years, in opposition and into government on two successive occasions. I thank all our members, past and present, for that privilege.”