'21,000 grassroots FG voices must be heard'
Housing Minister Simon Coveney vowed to fight on in the Fine Gael leadership campaign despite his rival Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar securing a clear advantage.
The Cork TD dismissed speculation that he would end his campaign as Mr Varadkar opened a commanding lead with the support of 45 members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party and most senior members of the Cabinet.
Mr Varadkar now effectively has 40pc of Fine Gael electorate support - and is within sight of confirming himself as successor to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
The strength of Mr Varadkar's support has led some within the party to suggest that Mr Coveney should consider winding-down his leadership campaign in the interests of party unity.
Four major party leadership rallies, organised at a cost of €250,000, are scheduled over the next 10 days while key Coveney backers including Junior Minister Damien English insisted the leadership race would continue.
Read More: Varadkar sees himself as the 'Irish Macron'
Other Coveney campaign sources indicated to the Sunday Independent that the next 48 hours "will be critical".
Mr Coveney made the vow to fight on as he attended a campaign rally at the Euro Capitol complex in Cork city just hours after he cancelled an afternoon media briefing in Carrigaline, his Co Cork constituency base.
That briefing was cancelled shortly after Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald confirmed that she would be supporting Mr Varadkar.
Arriving at the rally with his wife Ruth, Mr Coveney insisted it was vital the party's 21,000 members now have a say in Fine Gael's future direction.
"This is just the start of a process I am looking forward to," he said.
"We are going to make a very strong statement.
"This process is just getting underway - there are 21,000 people that will have a vote in two weeks are going to be getting involved from now on.
"I am looking forward to facilitating that.
"There are no second thoughts - that is not my style.
"We are going to finish what we started in this process.
"Every member in this party will have their say - and they will.
"This is an electorate of 21,000 people - it is not an electorate of 73."
Mr Coveney warned supporters not to be misled by media reports about his campaign being in trouble.
"It wouldn't be the first time media headlines have been wrong about Fine Gael.
"Sometimes in politics, as in life, swimming against the tide makes you stronger - and that is what we hope to do in this campaign.
"This process is about two things - choosing the right person to lead our party and choosing the right person to lead our country.
"We are here because we believe in something.
"We are going through a process of looking at ourselves as a political party in the mirror. What is Fine Gael all about? What is Fine Gael politics about today? That is a conversation we have not had in the past few years.
"This is a conversation I will ensure we have right now.
"I do not believe that if Ireland was governed by any other party than Fine Gael, in coalition with Labour, it would have helped restore economic prosperity to Ireland (since 2011).
"Fine Gael does not make decisions based on opinion polls.
"I want people to dream big dreams - and then help them to realise those dreams."
Mr Coveney, who has the backing of Health Minister Simon Harris, suffered a big blow when the expected endorsement of his fellow Cork TD and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed failed to materialise.
Mr Creed is not now expected to publicly back any leadership candidate.
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