The 2017 Fine Gael leadership election was triggered in May 2017, when Enda Kenny resigned as party leader. Voting began by members of Fine Gael and Young Fine Gael on 29 May 2017. On 2 June Leo Varadkar was announced as the victor, beating rival Simon Coveney. With Fine Gael being the governing party at the time, this election effectively appointed a new Taoiseach for Ireland.
The electoral system was an electoral college of the members of the Fine Gael party, Fine Gael councillors and Fine Gael parliamentary party members. The result was announced on 2 June 2017 when, at a special meeting, the parliamentary party cast their votes. Varadkar became Fine Gael leader immediately upon the announcement of the result, but did not immediately assume the office of Taoiseach. On 13 June at a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, he announced that the runner up Simon Coveney would be appointed the deputy leader of the party.
Varadkar was appointed by the President to the office of Taoiseach following his nomination by a vote in Dáil Éireann on 14 June. He became Ireland's youngest Taoiseach, as well as the first who is openly gay. Varadkar is mixed-race and is the first person of Indian-origin to serve in the role of Taoiseach.
Enda Kenny has been Fine Gael leader since 2002, being first Leader of the Opposition, and then Taoiseach following the 2011 general election. The 2016 general election saw Fine Gael lose seats, and its Labour Party coalition partners substantially diminished. Despite these losses, Kenny was unexpectedly able to form a new minority coalition government. Kenny was weakened by criticisms of his handling Garda whistleblower scandal, and—according to an analysis by RTÉ.ie—was an electoral liability to his party at a time when an election could be imminent leading to calls for him to step down.
On 17 May 2017, Kenny announced his intention to step down as party leader, effective at midnight. He requested that the party conclude the election of his successor by 2 June and said that he would step down as Taoiseach shortly thereafter.
Rule 49 of Fine Gael's Constitution and Rules state that a leadership contest is decided by an electoral college. These rules were brought in to effect in 2002 after Enda Kenny assumed the leadership, and came about as a result of a motion put forward by Leo Varadkar. This means that this was the first Fine Gael election were the electoral college was in effect. The electoral votes are allocated:
At the time of the vote the parliamentary party consisted of 73 members (50 TDs, 19 Senators and 4 MEPs). There were about 21,000 party members and Fine Gael had 235 local representatives: 232 councillors and 3 Údarás na Gaeltachta members.
Candidates required signatures of 10% of the parliamentary party, i.e. eight signatures.
Party members had to be affiliated for at least two years to be eligible to vote.
Leo Varadkar received the endorsement of:
Simon Coveney received the endorsement of:
Undeclared parliamentary members prior to the election included:
Because of Varadkar's commanding lead in support among parliamentarians he was considered the strong favourite to win.
The following are the key dates in the leadership election:
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The Parliamentary Party accounts for 65% of the vote, ordinary Fine Gael members account for 25%, with the remaining 10% of votes allocated to Fine Gael local representatives.
Although Coveney won the members' vote by a 2:1 margin, Varadkar's strong support with the Parliamentary Party secured him a commanding victory in the electoral college.
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