Friday 21 July 2017

Coveney goes on attack over Varadkar’s 12 months of planning for leadership contest

Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael Hustings for the leadership of the party at the Red Cow hotel in Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron
Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael Hustings for the leadership of the party at the Red Cow hotel in Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron

Kevin Doyle Group Political Editor

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has gone on the attack in a bid to revive his chances of becoming the next Taoiseach.

The minister who is trailing heavily in the leadership race warned that Mr Varadkar was going to take the party down a road that members might not be comfortable with.

And in a clear criticism of Mr Varadkar’s carefully planned campaign for the leadership he said: "I think it’s better I don’t say too much about the preparedness for this campaign. That preparation was going on for about 12 months from what I understand."

Mr Varadkar replied: "If you can’t prepare in three months when it comes to a general election we might get a lot less votes than that."

The candidates have traded blows over their potential to lead the party and country, facing questions from the audience including where they stood on the ownership of the new National Maternity Hospiteal. 

Mr Coveney said the two contenders are offering "two very different viewpoints and two very different journeys", suggesting his rival wanted to favour a certain cohort of voters, whereas he wanted a whole of society approach.

"Do we want to be a party that targets a core support base… or do we want to be a party that represents everybody in this country, that is the choice.

"That is where in my view, two good candidates have a different perspective," he said.

However, Mr Varadkar hit back saying he expected "a few blows" and accused Mr Coveney of trying to characterise the race as left-wing versus right-wing.

He claimed the Housing Minister was trying to be a "catch all" candidate who wanted represent "everyone in such a way that we represent nobody".

Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael Hustings for the leadership of the party at the Red Cow hotel in Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron
Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael Hustings for the leadership of the party at the Red Cow hotel in Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron
Venkat Gajula supporting Minister Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael Hustings for the leadership of the party at the Red Cow hotel in Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron
Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael Hustings for the leadership of the party at the Red Cow hotel in Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron
Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael Hustings for the leadership of the party at the Red Cow hotel in Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron
Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael Hustings for the leadership of the party at the Red Cow hotel in Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron

The Social Protection Minister said that was the Fianna Fáil way of doing politics.

"We should not try to be all things to all people.  Do that and we end up being nothing to anyone," he said.

The Dublin TD criticised Mr Coveney’s choice to base his election pitch on the ‘Just Society’ put forward by Declan Costello. He said it was 50-year-old and should frame the ideas of the 21st century.

Both ministers outlined why they believe they would make a better Taoiseach, with Mr Coveney saying the choice being taken by Fine Gael in the coming days is an "awesome responsibility".

The Cork TD offered himself as the candidate who is "most qualified" for the challenges ahead. He said that unlike Mr Varadkar he has a proven record as an MEP and “knows how to keep a minority government together because he put it together”.

Mr Coveney said he was somebody who made decisions like "sending a ship to the Mediterranean to fish children out of the sea".

To applause Mr Varadkar used the hustings to expand on his definition of controversial call for Fine Gael to the party for "people who get up early in the morning".

He said these people who "work in the public and private sectors, commuters, the self-employed, carers who look after loved ones, parents who get the kids ready for school, people who volunteer in their communities".

He said it should be Fine Gael’s mission "to make their lives better, whether it’s by reducing personal taxation, providing access to pensions and protecting their value, or improving social benefits like parental leave".

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