HEALTH Minister Leo Varadkar has been tipped to succeed Taoiseach Enda Kenny as Fine Gael leader by the party's former election guru Frank Flannery.
He praised the Dublin West TD for his straight talking and intelligence as well as his good looks and "exotic feel", comparing him to Fianna Fail Taoiseach and President, Eamon DeValera.
Mr Flannery stepped down as Fine Gael director of elections earlier this year amid the controversy surrounding disabilities charity Rehab where he was a board member and a former chief executive.
A master of election strategy and a key Fine Gael figure for decades, Mr Flannery predicted that Taoiseach Enda Kenny will lead the party into the next general election but said: "He'll have to plan his exit after that."
He warned that circumstances in the country ahead of the election - set for early 2016 if the Government runs its full term - are very similar to when previous Fine Gael-led coalitions lost power in the 1970s and 1990s.
He said that Mr Varadkar, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, and Dublin MEP Brian Hayes are among Mr Kenny's most likely successors.
Mr Flannery said that senior ministers like Frances Fitzgerald may also fancy a run at the leadership, but tipped Mr Vardakar (35) as the leading contender, saying he's "ahead in the race" in terms of public support.
He said that Mr Varadkar "has the capacity to speak in a very straight language" and he "is very bright".
"He's a qualified doctor but he has chosen politics. He has options," Mr Flannery added.
"He's a tall, good looking man, there's a certain exotic feel to Leo because he's half Indian, half Irish.
"If you go back to De Valera, he was half Spanish, half Irish, he had a bit of American in him.
"Ireland liked that in De Valera and I think they like that in Leo.
"His commitment to Ireland is total but he has these interesting character traits," Mr Flannery told the Irish Examiner.
Mr Vardakar is settling into his role at the Department of Health - widely seen as one of the most difficult portfolios - since the cabinet reshuffle in the summer.
Soon after taking the job he admitted that the Government's timetable for introducing universal healthcare was too ambitions, but he succeeded in securing more than €300m in extra funding for the department in the Budget.
Along with stepping down from his role in Fine Gael, Mr Flannery also resigned from Rehab's board amid demands that he appear at the Dail's Public Accounts Committee to be quizzed about his pension and payments he received for his lobbying work on behalf of the charity.
He's begun broadcasting a podcast with former RTE sports show host Bill O'Herlihy.
ANDREW LYNCH: P14