Monday 19 March 2018

Awkward scenes as rural TDs remain on fence in leadership race - despite visit from Coveney

Simon Coveney, is one of the contenders to be the next Taoiseach
Simon Coveney, is one of the contenders to be the next Taoiseach
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

BOTH of Co Clare's Fine Gael TDs remain on the fence in the leadership contest, despite a visit to their constituency by Simon Coveney this afternoon.

There were awkward scenes as Mr Coveney was asked by reporters if he knew which way junior minister Pat Breen and Joe Carey would vote in the battle between him and Leo Varadkar.

Mr Coveney said: "I don't expect them to declare right here. I'm not going to be putting people under pressure in the spotlight of the media."

Neither Mr Breen nor Mr Carey have declared who they will back in the race and and they remained silent while standing beside Mr Coveney as he was being asked questions.

Mr Coveney said: "I'll be having conversations with Pat and Joe just like I've had with all of the other members of the parliamentary party and they'll make their choices and I'll respect those choices."

Put to him that he could do with their support today given the number of TDs and senators who've declared for Mr Varadkar, he said:

Fine Gael's Joe Carey
Fine Gael's Joe Carey

"We have a contest under way Leo's got off to a good start but there's two weeks to go so we'll see how that plays out."

Read More: Leo Varadkar: ‘I’ve changed my mind and will stay in politics for the long haul’

Mr Coveney is in Ennis Co Clare for engagements relating to his Housing portfolio.

The visit was planned before the leadership contest was sparked by Taoiseach Enda Kenny's announcement that his was stepping aside as party leader on Wednesday evening.

Mr Coveney acknowledged that Mr Varadkar is ahead in the race to win the backing of the parliamentary party, but pointed out that there's two other constituencies, councillors and the wider Fine Gael membership.

He also said: "I'm not naive - I mean clearly there's a lot of momentum with Leo today.

Pat Breen TD
Pat Breen TD

"And good luck to him. I like Leo Varadkar I think he would be a good leader of the party. But I wouldn't be standing if I didn't think I was the best person for the job given the challenges that the country faces right now and so I intend on making my case."

Read More: Leo Varadkar 'humbled' by surge of support in his bid to be taoiseach

Mr Coveney said that it's only the second day of the campaign.

"I've been around politics long enough to know that things ebb and flow - let's wait and see how this transpires. I'm not somebody who shirks challenges. I never have."

SOCIAL Protection Minister Leo Varadkar is the favourite with the bookies to succeed Enda Kenny
SOCIAL Protection Minister Leo Varadkar is the favourite with the bookies to succeed Enda Kenny

He was asked if he would consider conceding if it got to the point that there was so much support for Mr Varadkar that there would be no point in continuing the campaign.

Mr Coveney said: "I would be doing a disservice to the party if I started speaking in that language and I don't intend to do that.

"I think a lot of party members want this to be a debate for the party to decide on the kind of country that they want Fine Gale to build".

He also said: "The idea that people would suggest that we should cut this campaign short because one of the constituencies in that discussion clearly has shown more support for Leo than for me so far is not an indication that the thing is over."

Read More: 'He has many crowning achievements' - Paul Kehoe is supporting Leo Varadkar

While Mr Breen and Mr Carey said they are undecided this afternoon, Clare county councillor Mary Howard said that she is backing Mr Coveney because she believes he'll be able to identify better than Mr Varadkar with rural issues and that he has the edge when it comes to dealing with Brexit.

She said her main areas of concern are rural development, including issues like broadband and the provision of hospital services.

She pointed to the downgrading of hospitals in Ennis and Nenagh and the increased pressure this has put on University Hospital Limerick.

"His [Mr Coveney's] own constiutency has a huge element of a rural area in it. He can identify with it, he knows what we're talking about."

On Brexit she said "His experience in Europe can't be taken lightly. He would have relationships built up. He knows how it works."

Ms Howard said both Mr Coveney and Mr Vardkar are "incredibly capable".

"We're very lucky to have these two men wanting to go and get the top job within Fine Gael... Both have the capacity to do the job. They're personable affable men."

But she said she decided to back Mr Coveney after considering the matter herself and talking to her constituents and said: "rural Ireland needs to have a voice".

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.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney

Total: 45

Total: 19

Ministers: 17

Ministers: 5

TDs: 16

TDs: 5

Senators: 11

Senators: 8

MEPs: 1

MEPs: 1

Richard Bruton -MinisterSimon Harris - Minister
Frances Fitzgerald - MinisterDamien English - Minister
Michael Ring - MinisterDara Murphy - Minister
Eoghan Murphy - MinisterDavid Stanton - Minister
Sean Kyne - MinisterMarcella Corcoran Kennedy - Minister
Joe McHugh - MinisterKate O'Connell - TD
Helen McEntee - MinisterMaria Bailey - TD
Charlie Flanagan - MinisterSean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -MinisterHildegard Naughton - TD
Patrick O'Donovan - MinisterPeter Fitzpatrick - TD
Regina Doherty - MinisterTim Lombard - Senator
Mary Mitchell O'Connor - MinisterJerry Buttimer - Senator
Paschal Donohoe - MinisterPaudie Coffey - Senator
Heather Humphreys - MinisterJames Reilly - Senator
Pat Breen - MinisterColm Burke - Senator
Catherine Byrne - MinisterJohn O'Mahony - Senator
Andrew Doyle - MinisterPaul Coghlan - Senator
John Paul Phelan - TDGabrielle McFadden - Senator
Noel Rock - TDDeirdre 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 - MinisterMichael Creed - Minister
Bernard Durkan - TDSean Kelly - MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP  

* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement

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