Friday 23 February 2018

Coveney fears that supporters will lose jobs as 'dirty tricks' see contest turn ugly

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Simon Coveney fears his supporters in the Fine Gael leadership race face being axed from their ministerial posts by a vengeful Leo Varadkar.

Sources close to the Cork TD have complained that Mr Varadkar's team gave some ministers an ultimatum "to back him or suffer the consequences".

As the contest to replace Enda Kenny turned ugly, the Housing Minister's side alleged that up to a dozen 'turncoats' have come out publicly for Mr Varadkar after initially promising support to him.

There have been claims that "dirty tricks" were behind last-minute inquiries to Fine Gael headquarters about the possibility of Simon Harris being added to the election ticket.

Mr Harris insisted he had no idea who would have made such call, saying: "All I know is that I'm 100pc behind Simon Coveney, and I have been from day one."

After four days of the contest, Mr Varadkar has yet to unveil any significant policy ideas but has secured the public backing of 45 of Fine Gael's 73 TDs, senators and MEPs.

Read More: Early riser Leo is setting the pace - but Simon's race is not run just yet

While Mr Coveney said yesterday that he was "not conceding anything", there is an acceptance that he cannot win.

As a result there is mounting fear that Mr Varadkar will sacrifice Mr Coveney's key supporters when appointing a new ministerial line-up.

Mr Harris is the only Cabinet member on the Coveney team, but the jobs of junior ministers Damien English, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, David Stanton and Dara Murphy are also thought to be at risk.

Mr Varadkar has said he will find a place for Mr Coveney in his team, but refused to give a guarantee to other ministers.

Asked yesterday if he wants to remain in the Department of Housing, Mr Coveney said: "If I am honest, I am actually more concerned about the people who are committing to me in terms of supporting me."

He added: "I am conscious that when people make a decision to back one candidate over another... they are also making a calculated risk for their own careers, that is the history of political contests."

Read More: Varadkar's copping out on where he stands isn't worthy of a leader of the country

Mr Harris said he wanted to be part of the next Cabinet. "But it's far too early and far too presumptuous to be talking about cabinet formation. Just for the record I love the job that I'm doing in the Department of Health," he said.


Mr Harris said he would continue to travel the country supporting Mr Coveney in the coming days, despite what he described as "rumours" that he nearly entered the race himself.

"I wonder where this is coming from. I heard rumours from a member of the media yesterday evening when I was on stage supporting Simon Coveney in Cork," he said.

Others in the Coveney camp have suggested it could be part of "dirty tricks" by opponents who want to damage relations between the two Simons and Mr Harris's standing in Cabinet.

It comes as Mr Coveney openly admitted he was double-crossed by some TDs and senators who had promised to back him. He said that a week ago his "honest assessment" of the numbers was that the parliamentary party was "split nearly 50/50".

"But what happens in a leadership contest is that you have core people who are very supportive of individual candidates, for me it's about 20 people and then you have a large group of people who are looking to see which way the tide is flowing to make sure they are one side, and I don't blame them for that, that's politics, that's survival.

"What's happened here is once this process kicked off momentum developed on Leo's side and many people who had very, very positive conversations with me came to me and said 'Look Simon, I see this going one direction I don't want to get caught offside and I hope you understand'," he said.

"And you know what, I kind of respect them for being up front about that. That's politics."

Mr Coveney launched his policy priorities yesterday which include laying the groundwork for a united Ireland, rebuilding trust in politics, reducing the marginal tax rate and a 20-year strategy plan for rebalancing the urban/rural divide.

Today, Mr Varadkar will release a policy document called 'Taking Ireland Forward'.

The Irish Independent understands his plans include a doubling of the budget for arts, culture and sport over a seven-year period.

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

Irish Independent

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