Irish Rivals Jostle for Position as Kenny Weighs His Exit

Updated on
  • Ireland’s prime minister set to announce plans to step down
  • Successor seen likely to follow Kenny’s economic policies

Leo Varadkar, the gay son of an Indian immigrant, moved into the favorite’s slot to become Ireland’s next prime minister, as candidates to replace Enda Kenny prepared for a leadership race.

Social Protection Minister Varadkar, 38, is best placed to succeed Kenny as leader of Fine Gael, ahead of Housing Minister Simon Coveney, bookmaker Paddy Power Betfair Plc said. He carries odds of 4/11 to be the next leader, meaning a successful 11-euro ($11.55) bet would return winnings of 4 euro. Kenny told a party meeting in Dublin on Wednesday that he will deal with the leadership question after St. Patrick’s Day, on March 17, Irish media reported.

While Kenny has always said he won’t lead his party into the next election, his departure may be hastened by the government’s inept handling of a controversy around whistle-blowers in the country’s police force. His successor will probably follow Kenny’s path of gradually cutting taxes, reducing the fiscal deficit and focusing on overseas investment as Brexit threatens to derail Ireland’s recovery.

Political uncertainty over the succession has hit Irish government debt, “but nothing like France or Italy,” said Alan McQuaid, an economist at Merrion Capital in Dublin. “At the end of the day, the chances of anti-establishment parties coming to power in Ireland remains slim at this juncture.”

The yield on France’s benchmark 10-year bonds rose above lower-rated Ireland’s on Tuesday after polls showed the anti-euro Marine Le Pen was gaining ground on her rivals.

The election of the openly-gay Varadkar would be a generational and social change for the nation. Ireland, which voted to recognize same-sex marriage in 2015, was among the last European Union members to decriminalize homosexual activity and lawmakers are still grappling with how to legislate for abortion.

Varadkar, a qualified doctor and former health minister, is likely to face competition for Kenny’s job. Coveney, who is rated as a 2/1 shot, has already indicated he will stand for the role, while Health Minister Simon Harris and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald are also weighing a run.

(Adds reports on Kenny exit plan in second paragraph.)
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