Thursday 23 November 2017

Awkward time for Coveney as TDs put on the spot over who they'll back

Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Mark Condren
Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Mark Condren
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

You could almost say he brought it on himself, but that doesn't make it any less awkward.

Simon Coveney was flanked by two Fine Gael stalwarts, Pat Breen and Joe Carey. He was in Ennis to talk about measures being taken there to tackle the housing crisis.

But the leadership race was obviously the focus for reporters, and how Leo Varadkar was running away with endorsements by TDs and senators.

Mr Coveney spoke of the support he's been receiving from around the country but said there would be people in Fine Gael who were "torn between two friends of theirs".

Then he brought his two colleagues into the conversation.

"Both people on either side of me here, Pat and Joe, are very friendly with me and they're very friendly with Leo. These aren't easy choices," he said.

The inevitable question came: "Do you know what way they're voting?"

Mr Coveney could only admit that he didn't.

Meanwhile, both junior finance minister Mr Breen and Mr Carey stayed silent.

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

"I'll be having conversations with Pat and Joe 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 them chipping in, he said: "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."

Mr Coveney was unfortunate that the engagements in Ennis - which were scheduled prior to Taoiseach Enda Kenny sparking the leadership race - took place before both local TDs said who they'd back.

Clare councillor Mary Howard does support the Housing Minister, saying "rural Ireland needs to have a voice" and she believes he has the edge over Mr Varadkar when it comes to Brexit.

But Mr Coveney struggled to put a positive gloss on the stark figures. He acknowledged that Mr Varadkar was ahead among the parliamentary party, but pointed out there were two other constituencies - councillors and the wider Fine Gael membership.

He insisted it would be a "disservice" to the party if the contest was cut short, saying members want a conversation on "the kind of country that they want Fine Gael to build".

Mr Coveney said he never shirked from challenges and the support for his rival was "not an indication that the thing is over".

He said he would not be running if he didn't think he was the best person for the job amid the challenges facing the country, adding: "I intend on making my case."

He also said: "I'm the kind of person who when I start something I finish it and I'll do that in this contest too."

Mr Coveney said he had been in politics "long enough to know that a week, never mind two weeks, is a very long time in politics".

But it is becoming increasingly clear that two days is a long time in politics too.

Last night, both Mr Breen and Mr Carey confirmed they will be supporting Mr Varadkar. Mr Breen said Mr Varadkar "has the energy, experience and enthusiasm to lead our country".

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 
Undeclared
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

Irish Independent

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