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Varadkar vows to stay on as leader while touring country in frantic bid to save FG

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On cue: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar plays pool in The Midland Bar while on the campaign trail in Enfield, Co Meath. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

On cue: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar plays pool in The Midland Bar while on the campaign trail in Enfield, Co Meath. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

PA

On cue: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar plays pool in The Midland Bar while on the campaign trail in Enfield, Co Meath. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted he would try to remain as Fine Gael leader irrespective of the General Election outcome, as he mounted a frantic bid to save Dáil seats yesterday.

Fine Gael TDs were privately fearful the party was facing into significant losses this weekend with existing seats at risk and its chance of adding second TDs in many constituencies now evaporating.

Mr Varadkar stopped in four counties and canvassed in Dublin Mid-West, Meath West, Longford-Westmeath and Cavan-Monaghan yesterday, and Fine Gael sources in all of them acknowledged the party needs to shore up its vote in the coming days just to hold what it has.

It came as the Taoiseach's leadership of Fine Gael was thrown into question after former finance minister Michael Noonan made a highly unusual intervention to back his successor Paschal Donohoe for the party leadership in the future. He told 'The Floating Voter' podcast that he has "no doubt at all" that Mr Donohoe will someday be leader while backing Mr Varadkar for re-election.

Asked about those remarks in Dublin, Mr Varadkar denied the debate on his own future had begun.

"I listened to the podcast and Michael endorsed me to continue as Taoiseach and Paschal to continue as finance minister. We expect and we certainly hope that after the election Fine Gael will emerge once again as the largest party," he said.

"The opinion polls are within the margin of error. So this can be won, but if that doesn't happen for some reason I have indicated that I will seek to stay on as Fine Gael leader."

Asked whether this was in all circumstances, he responded: "Yes."

Mr Varadkar visited a school in west Dublin and met voters in the towns of Enfield, Mullingar and Castlepollard before attending a Fine Gael rally in Virginia, Co Cavan.

There is now a fierce internal battle under way in constituencies across the country as Fine Gael seeks to hold onto Dáil seats.

One sitting TD, who thinks they are likely to lose their seat, said: "I feel sorry for some people who probably only realised in the last week their seat was in trouble."

A long-serving Fine Gael politician admitted after nine years in government "everyone is tired" of the party.

A party figure said even Minister of State Damien English was "clinging on" in Meath West, where it is feared the fact he has two running mates could split his vote.

Councillors Noel French and Sarah Reilly were added when Fine Gael had a chance of a second seat - a possibility that is now viewed as unlikely.

With Fine Gael polling at between 20pc and 21pc in recent days, the party is, on these numbers, heading for a worse result than the 2002 General Election where it won 23pc of the vote and took just 31 seats.

The 2002 result triggered the immediate resignation of Mr Noonan as party leader - but Mr Varadkar has now clearly stated he will look to stay on and lead the party in opposition.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who lost out to Mr Varadkar in the 2017 leadership contest but continues to be linked with the position, said on Tuesday: "There is no question mark over Leo Varadkar's leadership."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar intends to continue leading Fine Gael from the opposition benches if voted out of office next weekend. Mr Varadkar’s party are facing an uphill battle to retain power after the latest opinion polls suggested Fine Gael are on course for one of their worst election results in history.

Irish Independent