Thursday 18 January 2018

Coveney digs in after Noonan call

Finance Minister intervenes in bid to keep race alive

Finance Minister Michael Noonan Photo: Steve Humphreys
Finance Minister Michael Noonan Photo: Steve Humphreys

Kevin Doyle, Philip Ryan and Nicola Anderson

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."

FAVOURITE: Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar TD and some of his supporters at his campaign event in Dublin yesterday. Photo: David Conachy
FAVOURITE: Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar TD and some of his supporters at his campaign event in Dublin yesterday. Photo: David Conachy

Read More: Varadkar's spring clean ahead of a winter vote

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.

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

Sunday Independent

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