Coveney digs in after Noonan call
Finance Minister intervenes in bid to keep race alive
Finance Minister Michael Noonan has made a dramatic intervention in the Fine Gael leadership race, telling Simon Coveney to fight on.
The former party leader, who has refused to publicly declare a preference for either candidate, urged Mr Coveney to stay in the race during a phone call yesterday, the Sunday Independent understands.
Supporters of the Housing Minister accept that Leo Varadkar will be the next Taoiseach after gathering an unprecedented level of backing from Cabinet colleagues and backbench TDs.
It is understood a number of key people in Mr Coveney's team suggested privately to the minister that he could damage his reputation by taking part in a futile contest.
The Cork TD widely canvassed views from his supporters and family yesterday but decided to push ahead with his campaign.
A source said: "He had a conversation with Michael Noonan who encouraged him to stay in. That was crucial."
In a bizarre twist last night, senior Fine Gael officials revealed they received a query about Health Minister Simon Harris entering the race less than an hour before the deadline for nominations. It is unclear if he was to replace Mr Coveney or become a third candidate. It is understood that the request for information on the nomination process was received by Fine Gael officials just after 4pm.
However, sources close to Mr Harris last night denied that he sought to enter the race and insisted he has always been clear in his support for Mr Coveney.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael ministers are already scrambling for positions, as the power games to become a member of Mr Varadkar's new Cabinet got underway.
The 38-year-old's popularity presents him with a major challenge as he moves closer to becoming the country's youngest ever Taoiseach.
Seven Cabinet members have publicly backed him ahead of the June 2 vote and, in total, 45 parliamentary party members have pledged allegiance to the current Social Protection Minister.
Read More: '21,000 grassroots FG voices must be heard'
The only person certain of a ministry is Mr Coveney after his rival confirmed he would keep him in Cabinet. Mr Varadkar described him as "an honest, diligent, patient man".
While both candidates have refrained from publicly criticising each other, remarks made by Dublin Bay South TD Kate O'Connell have sent ripples through the party.
The outspoken TD has come under fire for telling a Coveney rally in Clare last Thursday night that Mr Varadkar's supporters were "choirboys singing for their suppers".
And she personally attacked her constituency colleague Eoghan Murphy who is the minister's campaign director.
Kate O'Connell was contacted by officials from Fine Gael headquarters about the comments and told to refrain from launching further verbal attacks during the campaign.
A senior source in Mount Street said Ms O'Connell was told there would be consequences if she stepped out of line at future campaign events. "The word was passed back to her and the camp that the comments were outrageous. The comments were very close to the line," a source said.
Mr Murphy is one of those who is all but certain to be elevated to Cabinet in the coming weeks, possibly taking over Mary Mitchell O'Connor's position in the Department of Jobs. Ms Mitchell O'Connor could end up in the Department of Education.
Health Minister Simon Harris's Cabinet future is in doubt after he was the only senior minister to publicly support Mr Coveney.
One of the major Cabinet changes being tipped is Education Minister Richard Bruton to replace Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald in the Department of Justice.
Fitzgerald's prime role at Varadkar's launch led to speculation she will remain at Cabinet but sources insisted she has been given no commitments.
Heather Humphreys's Departments of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs could be split with the minister being given responsibility for the Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht element.
Michael Ring, who is currently a junior minister in the department, could become a senior minister for Regional and Rural Affairs after weighing in behind Varadkar at his launch. Mr Ring is also being tipped for the Department of Social Protection as he was formerly Fine Gael's spokesman on welfare.
Paschal Donohoe is expected to take over from Michael Noonan in the Department of Finance ahead of re-merging the department with Public Expenditure and Reform after a general election.
Carlow Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan looks certain to become the new Government Chief Whip, a position he will relish as a political anorak. The current whip Regina Doherty is likely to be promoted but it is unclear where she will end up.
Mr Coveney's decision to stay in the race means party headquarters are pressing ahead with a plan for hustings in Dublin, Cork, Carlow and Ballinasloe later this week.
Both ministers said yesterday that the membership's views should be heard.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Coveney said: "I think that Leo will make a great leader but I wouldn't be standing if I didn't think I'd make a better one.
"I am somebody who wants to unite and strengthen the party but I also want to influence its value system," Mr Coveney said.
At his campaign launch, Mr Varadkar said he wanted Fine Gael to be the party that represented "people who get up early in the morning".
He promised to deliver a "new social contract" with the Irish people and to fight "against a rising tide of populism".
"Leadership will be about more than one person," he said. The Dublin West TD said he would not call an early election. Instead he promised to recommit the party to its Confidence and Supply deal with Fianna Fail.
Simon Coveney will tomorrow unveil his campaign manifesto in which he will commit to reducing the tax burden for low and middle income families and to introduce new measures to support small and medium size enterprises.
He will also pledge to reduce the marginal tax rate to below 50pc and widen tax bands so people begin paying the higher rate of tax above the current level of €33,800. He also wants to double the size of the country's other cities outside of Dublin.
Mr Coveney also wants to create a new National Security Agency which would operate separately to An Garda Siochana. The new agency would incorporate security functions currently held by gardai and the Defence Forces.
Meanwhile, Leo Varadkar is to unveil a 20-year capital spending plan which would see funding spent on new housing, roads and public transport, broadband, healthcare, water, ICT, schools and further education.
"The new capital plan will allow us to bring forward long-delayed projects like Dublin Metro, the M20 between Cork and Limerick, motorway access to the North-West and major investment in our healthcare and educational institutions. It will also enable further investment to tackle our housing needs," a source said.
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