Monday 21 August 2017

Now take your pick - do you want 'caring Simon' or 'up-early Leo'

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael hustings Picture: Arthur Carron
Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael hustings Picture: Arthur Carron
John Downing

John Downing

It's still mighty hard to see Leo Varadkar being overtaken after his first barnstorming week. But Simon Coveney is getting points for just refusing to cave in.

The pair arrived at the Red Cow Moran Hotel, on the for-once-at-least sun-soaked edge of Dublin, for their first face-off.

Coveney, so far down the field, did have the luxury of being able to go for broke. And that is just what he did with a few side-swipes at his opponent and then a head-on attack.

For Coveney, this was clearly more than an address to the 21,000 Fine Gael members who account for 25pc of the vote. It was an effort to address the undeclared members of the all-important parliamentary party and an effort to give a semblance of credibility to the far-fetched notion that he can "turn" up to half a dozen "Varadkarites".

So no great pressure faced him. Just stay alive and maybe, just maybe, inch back into the contest.

Varadkar, apparently all but home and hosed, needed to avoid self-harming gaffes. Since this one is his to lose, it was a fair bet that safety would surely trump the need for big gains.

At 8.06pm the party chairman, and self-appointed referee, Martin Heydon of Kildare South, declared proceedings and handed over to the moderator Gavin Duffy.

The lottery meant that Varadkar went first and he opened with a very creditable message in Irish which showed he is, so far at least, serious about learning the language.

Read More: Coveney goes on attack over Varadkar's lean to right

He played a safe and low-key game, cleverly appealing directly to the membership, with plenty of emphasis on his own experiences pounding the beat and hopelessly losing his first council election.

He had a strong and clear message which he kept very concise. Fine Gael needed to broaden its support base - but it cannot be all things to all people.

Varadkar did not back off his message about the need to support those who "get up early in the morning."

His Fine Gael must be about middle Ireland and the coping classes - beyond that there would "a threshold of decency" to support the less well-off and "a catch-up plan" to spread economic recovery.

It took all of 13 minutes and was well received. Then it was over to Coveney.

Like his opponent, Coveney delivered ritual messages about the need for party unity and praise for the outgoing leadership. But he skipped the folksy stuff about being out on the canvass trail and quickly "went national."

Fine Gael members were also picking a new Taoiseach and they should think hard.

There was a clear swipe at Varadkar's poor showing as a negotiator in the 70 days of government making last year. Coveney got a round of applause as he recalled that he would know how to keep a minority coalition together since he helped put it together.

In fact his hearty delivery really drove his supporters as he spoke of the need for a "Just Society." In a less subtle dig at Varadkar, he said it was not enough to slightly expand the party base around the coping classes.

Coveney wanted to support those who get up in the morning. But he also wanted to extend support to those who could not get up early through poor circumstances or lack of motivation.

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The man in the sleeping bag may never vote Fine Gael - but the party still had an obligation to help him.

In fact he was "deeply concerned" about the direction Varadkar wanted to take Fine Gael.

So now they will repeat the performance in Carlow, Ballinasloe and Cork. As decision time looms closer into view, the choice remains: "caring Simon" or "up-early Leo".

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.

That makes each of the 73 members' votes worth 0.9pc of the total ballot.

Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10pc, while the remaining 25pc is rank and file members.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney

Total: 45

Total: 19

Ministers: 17

Ministers: 5

TDs: 16

TDs: 5

Senators: 11

Senators: 8

MEPs: 1

MEPs: 1

Richard Bruton -MinisterSimon Harris - Minister
Frances Fitzgerald - MinisterDamien English - Minister
Michael Ring - MinisterDara Murphy - Minister
Eoghan Murphy - MinisterDavid Stanton - Minister
Sean Kyne - MinisterMarcella Corcoran Kennedy - Minister
Joe McHugh - MinisterKate O'Connell - TD
Helen McEntee - MinisterMaria Bailey - TD
Charlie Flanagan - MinisterSean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -MinisterHildegard Naughton - TD
Patrick O'Donovan - MinisterPeter Fitzpatrick - TD
Regina Doherty - MinisterTim Lombard - Senator
Mary Mitchell O'Connor - MinisterJerry Buttimer - Senator
Paschal Donohoe - MinisterPaudie Coffey - Senator
Heather Humphreys - MinisterJames Reilly - Senator
Pat Breen - MinisterColm Burke - Senator
Catherine Byrne - MinisterJohn O'Mahony - Senator
Andrew Doyle - MinisterPaul Coghlan - Senator
John Paul Phelan - TDGabrielle McFadden - Senator
Noel Rock - TDDeirdre Clune - MEP
Tony McLoughlin - TD 
Alan Farrell - TD 
Michael D'Arcy - TD 
Tom Neville - TD 
Josepha Madigan - TD 
Pat Deering - TD 
Jim Daly - TD 
Brendan Griffin - TD 
Ciaran Cannon - TD 
Colm Brophy - TD 
Peter Burke - TD 
Fergus O'Dowd - TD 
John Deasy - TD 
Joe Carey - TD 
Neale Richmond - Senator 
Catherine Noone - Senator 
Paddy Burke - Senator 
Martin Conway - Senator 
Michelle Mulherin - Senator 
Maura Hopkins - Senator 
Ray Butler - Senator 
Frank Feighan - Senator 
Maria Byrne - Senator 
Joe O'Reilly - Senator 
Kieran O'Donnell - Senator 
Brian Hayes - MEP 
Undeclared
Enda Kenny - Outgoing Party Leader *Martin Heydon - Party Chairman *
Michael Noonan - MinisterMichael Creed - Minister
Bernard Durkan - TDSean Kelly - MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP  

* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement

Irish Independent

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