Speculation mounts Simon Coveney to withdraw from Fine Gael leadership battle
Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald backs Leo Varadkar's leadership campaign
There is mounting speculation this afternoon that Housing Minister Simon Coveney is considering withdrawing from the Fine Gael leadership contest.
He cancelled a media event scheduled to be held in Co Cork this afternoon to meet supporters to discuss whether he should withdraw from the race.
A rally with supporters is still scheduled for 8pm - however speculation within the party is that the contest will be over sooner rather than later.
Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Rural Minister Michael Ring backed Leo Varadkar's leadership campaign, in a move many believed gave the Social Protection minister an unassailable lead in the race.
"He is committed, intelligent and determined. He is a deep analytical thinker with a diligence to turn his ideas into reality," Minister for Justice said at the official launch for Varadkar's campaign for the leadership of Fine Gael on Saturday afternoon.
"Above all, he has empathy. He understands the challenges people and families face in Irish society. It's not about having economic growth. It's about using that growth so that no one gets left out"
"Leo is the leader to renew and recommunicate Fine Gael values...let's make these two weeks count and win in a decisive, generous way".
Michael Ring said Leo Varadkar "is the right man for the job at the right time".
"He has the great qualities needed to represent the country home and abroad. He will be a great leader of Fine Gael and a great Taoiseach," he said.
"When this contest is over I have no doubt the party of Fine Gael will come behind you as leader and as Taoiseach of this country," he added.
Minister Catherine Byrne and Senator Joe O'Reilly have also declared for Leo Varadkar this afternoon.
Varadkar spoke at the Dublin City Council Civic offices this afternoon to make the campaign announcement.
He began by paying tribute to Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.
"I truly believe that when history records Enda Kenny, it will record him as the man who gave Ireland back her future," he said.
"Now the country needs a new mission, it stands at a crossroads...We can make mistakes that we have in the past or we can get it right this time, and I am determined to get it right."
Varadkar said that he wants to make Fine Gael a modern campaign party and "a fighting force once more".
"Against a rising tide of populism...we need a stable foundation to build the Ireland we need," he said.
"I will seek to forge a new social contract where anyone who contributes to the system benefits from it...Leadership will be about more than one person."
He said that he wants the party to be united in terms of ideas and values and "how we work with other people and convey those values".
"Ireland can be a country that provides equality and opportunity for all...I ask for your trust and your support. So let's begin anew," he concluded.
The Social Protection Minister said he will include Housing Minister Simon Coveney in his Cabinet if elected next Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach.
"An honest, diligent, patient man. I wish I had the patience Simon had," he said.
However, Mr Varadkar would not commit to keeping Health Minister Simon Harris at Cabinet.
Mr Harris is the only Cabinet member to publicly support Mr Coveney.
Mr Varadkar received a round of applause from supporters when he announced he would keep Mr Coveney at Cabinet.
But purposely refused to state whether Mr Harris would be kept at the Cabinet table.
Mr Vardakar said the leadership campaign "is only starting".
"I'm very keen to take the campaign to the rest of the country," he said.
When asked about the scathing attack by Dublin Bay South TD Kate O’Connell who labelled TDs who have come out in support of Mr Varadkar as “boys that are singing for their supper”, he had no response.
"I want it to be a positive campaign and I don't think theres room for any negative commentary in a positive campaign".
Mr Varadkar said it will be a hard task to match Enda Kenny's performance.
"The position I made was that the timing was a matter for Enda Kenny. It was his decision in the end," he said.
CampaignForLeo will now see the current Minister for Social Protection travel around the country before the first leadership debate takes place at the Red Cow Hotel, Dublin this Thursday.
Leo Varadkar has now secured the votes of 45 of the 73 members of the parliamentary party.
The votes from Fine Gael TDs and Senators will account for 65pc of the overall vote, with 25pc of votes coming from party members and the remaining 10pc from local representatives.
Meanwhile, Simon Coveney is scheduled to appear at a rally in Cork tonight in a bid to gather some much needed local support.
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.
|Richard Bruton -Minister||Simon Harris - Minister|
|Frances Fitzgerald - Minister||Damien English - Minister|
|Michael Ring - Minister||Dara Murphy - Minister|
|Eoghan Murphy - Minister||David Stanton - Minister|
|Sean Kyne - Minister||Marcella Corcoran Kennedy - Minister|
|Joe McHugh - Minister||Kate O'Connell - TD|
|Helen McEntee - Minister||Maria Bailey - TD|
|Charlie Flanagan - Minister||Sean Barrett TD|
|Paul Kehoe -Minister||Hildegard Naughton - TD|
|Patrick O'Donovan - Minister||Peter Fitzpatrick - TD|
|Regina Doherty - Minister||Tim Lombard - Senator|
|Mary Mitchell O'Connor - Minister||Jerry Buttimer - Senator|
|Paschal Donohoe - Minister||Paudie Coffey - Senator|
|Heather Humphreys - Minister||James Reilly - Senator|
|Pat Breen - Minister||Colm Burke - Senator|
|Catherine Byrne - Minister||John O'Mahony - Senator|
|Andrew Doyle - Minister||Paul Coghlan - Senator|
|John Paul Phelan - TD||Gabrielle McFadden - Senator|
|Noel Rock - TD||Deirdre 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|
|Enda Kenny - Outgoing Party Leader *||Martin Heydon - Party Chairman *|
|Michael Noonan - Minister||Michael Creed - Minister|
|Bernard Durkan - TD||Sean Kelly - MEP|
|Mairead McGuinness MEP|
* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement