'This is not a Dublin against the rest campaign' - Coveney speaks out about leadership battle
'Being an under-dog means nothing. I am not used to being an under-dog. But I have started something and I intend to finish it'
HOUSING Minister Simon Coveney warned he will not engage in auction politics with his rival Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar for the Fine Gael leadership.
Mr Coveney said that, under his leadership, Fine Gael would attempt to 're-balance' Ireland by growing cities like Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford to act as a counterweight to Dublin and the eastern seaboard.
The Cork TD said such regional cities must double in size if Ireland is to avoid a dangerous concentration of population, economic development and infrastructure in Dublin.
His warning came as he was challenged in his native Cork over the delayed €70m events centre - and in the mid-west over the long-stalled €1bn M20 Cork-Limerick motorway.
Mr Varadkar, who as Transport Minister warned he couldn't see the M20 opening before 2023, has spoken in recent times of the strategic importance of the motorway project.
But his Cork rival warned during campaign statements to Cork radio stations 96FM and RedFM that he wasn't going to engage in promises just to "get votes over the line."
"I am not getting into auction politics," Mr Coveney said.
"That is not what I am about.
"I think my commitment to big projects in Cork whether it is the Cork-Limerick motorway or the events centre or Pairc Uí Chaoimh, the N28 or the Dunkettle interchange or Albert Quay or the Capitol complex, my record for Cork in terms of trying to build this city into something much bigger and stronger is pretty strong.
"Within a couple of weeks I will be bringing to Government what is called the Ireland 2040 Plan. It is a new national plan for this country - something we have never had before.
"I have been working on it for a year - this is not just about a leadership campaign," he continued.
"The main stay of it is to re-balance this country so that all of the cities outside of Dublin over the next two decades will actually look to double in size in terms of population.
"There is going to be an extra million people in Ireland over the next two decades and they simply cannot all move to Dublin or the surrounding commuter belt.
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"But that is what will happen if we don't intervene as a State - that means significant capital investment projects (in the regions).
"We should do it in the context of a national plan not just in the context of making promises to get votes over the line.
He continued; "What I am about is setting out a vision for what this country can be and should look like in 10, 15 and 20 years time.
"Plus putting a real and honest plan in place to get it there. Then you go to the people and say: 'Here, this is what we are about.' We are about building strong communities and reaching out to everybody.
"We are talking about re-balancing the country because the dominance of Dublin at the moment is holding back many other cities and many other regions across Ireland."
He rejected suggestions the Fine Gael leadership battle was essential a 'Dublin against the rest' campaign.
"Being an under-dog means nothing. I am not used to being an under-dog. But I have started something and I intend to finish it," he said.
"I have lots of support in Dublin - there are lots of TDs there who are supporting me.
"There are plenty of Dublin-based Oireachtas members who believe in what I am talking about.
"They are focused on ideas, substance and delivery as well as media-style appeal if you want to call it that.
"That is not a swipe at Leo - he is a serious thinker and a serious politician too."
Mr Coveney said the campaign until June 2 was vital if Fine Gael is to expand its broad appeal.
"I want to expand the appeal of the party - but in a way that is compassionate and generous.
"I want Fine Gael to represent vulnerable people - that reaches out to everyone.
"It is important that the party is seen to represent everybody."
The Cork TD rejected suggestions both Mr Varadkar and himself are essentially appealing to the same middle-class base.
"That is rubbish," he said.
"They haven't seen what I am about in politics if that is what they think.
"They clearly don't know me if that is what they think.
"The reason I took on the housing brief - which I asked for despite people thinking I was crazy - I knew it was going to be difficult. I believe housing is the most important issue in domestic politics.
"A most basic thing that families need the State's help with right now is a stable home. I want social housing and private housing to be in the same developments.
"The number of social housing projects has continued to grow dramatically. The year before I took over as Housing Minister there were 74 local authority houses built by councils across the country. This year there will be thousands - that is how fast we have ramped up.
"And remember, this housing strategy is only nine months old."
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He also warned that, in terms of Brexit, Ireland effectively holds a veto over any UK-EU deal that might threaten our national economic interests.
"My view is that Ireland has prepared for the Brexit negotiations better than any other country including Britain. Ireland is front and centre in terms of the EU's negotiation team concerns. We have shown ourselves as a Government to be able to raise all of the key issues and vulnerabilities for Ireland in terms of Brexit."
"We will continue to drive a very hard bargain.
"Don't forget that whatever is the final deal on Brexit, it will have to be approved by every country in the EU including Ireland. So, effectively we have a veto. If the key Irish issues are not resolved particularly in relation to Northern Ireland and the Border, I think Ireland will be very slow to support any deal.
"The EU know what which is why they are trying to protect Irish interests.
"Ireland's concerns are the EU concerns - and we already have a pretty powerful negotiating team working for Ireland."
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