Wednesday 20 September 2017

Varadkar and Coveney in 'covert' campaigns to spell out their visions

Simon Coveney Picture: Damien Eagers
Simon Coveney Picture: Damien Eagers
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The main contenders to take over from Enda Kenny as Taoiseach are set to run "covert" campaigns over the next three weeks before launching into a full-blown leadership battle.

Supporters of Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney say the ministers will refrain from making public pitches for votes - but will use speaking engagements to set out their vision for Fine Gael and the country.

Other ministers are also set to ramp up their public appearances and policy announcements in a bid to "keep themselves relevant", sources say.

"You're going to see ministers try to justify their existence, particularly the ones who are worried about their jobs," a source said.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney are already working behind the scenes to secure the backing of TDs and senators who carry the largest weight in the contest.

It is understood that no jobs have been offered yet, but some junior ministers have intimated that their support will be conditional on retaining their positions.

"The contest for the top job is the one that everybody will be focused on, but there is a whole other contest behind the scene for jobs," one Fine Gael minister said.

Sources in both the Varadkar and Coveney camps described Michael Noonan, Charlie Flanagan, Frances Fitzgerald and Richard Bruton as the ministers most at risk of demotion.

Officially, Ms Fitzgerald and Mr Bruton are both still considering entering the leadership race, as is Health Minister Simon Harris. However, senior party sources believe Mr Bruton is the most likely to actually put his name forward.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe's name is also still being mentioned by other ministers as a potential candidate, even though he has categorically ruled himself out.

Despite their eagerness to get a proper election campaign under way, Mr Kenny's success in quelling disquiet within the party has come as a relief to Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney.

Sources close to both said Easter must now be a definitive deadline for change or a fresh feud will arise.

Countdown

"This was a false start but we're in the final countdown now. If he tries to push out the date again the whole thing will blow up again and the result will be different," a source said.

However, supporters of Mr Kenny say he should now be given "all the time and space he needs" to step down in an orderly fashion.

"His performance was tremendous at the meeting. He stared them down and showed them who's the boss," said one senator.

Fianna Fáil TD Willie O'Dea last night described the anti-climatic showdown between Mr Kenny and his party as "the night of the rubber knives".

Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney are now understood to be planning a nationwide tour to meet members, and will also have to take part in public debates after St Patrick's Day.

"We'll be taking ye [the journalists] to parts of the country you've never seen," said one Coveney supporter.

Normal service was resumed in Fine Gael yesterday with Mr Coveney taking a series of questions on housing in the Dáil.

Read More: Analysis: While Fine Gael fiddles, the crises are stacking up

Today he is attending a planning event at University College Cork, while Mr Varadkar is meeting entrepreneurs who set up their own businesses with help from the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance in Dublin.

Meanwhile, Independent Alliance ministers say they expect Mr Kenny's successor to honour all the arrangements made during the formation of government talks last year.

Transport Minister Shane Ross said the Programme for Government "stands" regardless of who is leader of Fine Gael.

Office of Public Works Minister Sean Canney told a press conference that people needed to move past the distraction of recent days.

"I remember, going back to the government negotiations, people were critical of how long it took to put a Programme for Government together. We spent time at that.

"Now we're being successful in delivering that. That's our focus," he said.

His colleague, Kevin 'Boxer' Moran said: "Yes it's coming down the tracks, but we'll have to work with whoever he or she may be at that time."

Irish Independent

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