Tuesday 21 November 2017

Coveney goes on attack over Varadkar's lean to right

  • Housing Minister criticises opponent's 12 months of plans

  • Social Protection Minister says he'll run proper election campaign

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael hustings Picture: Arthur Carron
Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael hustings Picture: Arthur Carron

Kevin Doyle, Philip Ryan and Niall O'Connor

Housing Minister Simon Coveney relentlessly attacked Leo Varadkar's vision for Fine Gael and the country as he sought to win over the grassroots at the party's' first hustings.

The minister, who is trailing heavily in the leadership race, warned that Mr Varadkar was going to take the party down a road that members might not be comfortable with.

And in a clear criticism of Mr Varadkar's carefully planned leadership campaign, he said: "I think it's better I don't say too much about the preparedness for this campaign. That preparation was going on for about 12 months from what I understand."

Mr Varadkar replied: "If you can't prepare in three months, when it comes to a general election we might get a lot less votes than that."

Over two hours the candidates went on to trade blows over their plans for health, Brexit, security and the economy.

Mr Coveney said the two contenders were offering "two very different viewpoints and two very different journeys".

Party members listen to the two candidates. Picture: Arthur Carron
Party members listen to the two candidates. Picture: Arthur Carron

He suggested his rival was "announcing plans that are popular but may not be consistent with the overall [infrastructure] plan and wanted to increase borrowing by €25bn".

Mr Varadkar responded: "That's not true. There's no point having a plan that's not implementable. We have to put money behind it."

They also clashed over who would bring bigger electoral gains for the party.

Mr Coveney claimed the Dublin TD would "target a core support" whereas he wants "a party that represents everybody in this country, that is the choice.

"That is where in my view, two good candidates have a different perspective," he said.

However, Mr Varadkar hit back saying he expected "a few blows" and accused Mr Coveney of trying to characterise the race as left-wing versus right-wing.

He claimed the Housing Minister was trying to be a "catch all" candidate who wanted to represent "everyone in such a way that we represent nobody".

The Social Protection Minister said that was the Fianna Fáil way of doing politics.

"We should not try to be all things to all people. Do that and we end up being nothing to anyone," he said.

Mr Varadkar criticised Mr Coveney's choice to base his election pitch on the 'Just Society' put forward by Declan Costello.

Both ministers outlined why they believed they would make a better Taoiseach, with Mr Coveney saying the choice being taken by Fine Gael in the coming days was an "awesome responsibility".

The Cork TD offered himself as the candidate who was "most qualified" for the challenges ahead. He said that unlike Mr Varadkar he had a proven record as an MEP and "knows how to keep a minority government together because he put it together".

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Mr Coveney said he was somebody who made decisions like "sending a ship to the Mediterranean to fish children out of the sea".

To applause Mr Varadkar used the hustings to expand on his definition of a controversial call for Fine Gael to the party for "people who get up early in the morning".

He said these people who "work in the public and private sectors, commuters, the self-employed, carers who look after loved ones, parents who get the kids ready for school, people who volunteer in their communities".

He said it should be Fine Gael's mission "to make their lives better, whether it's by reducing personal taxation, providing access to pensions and protecting their value, or improving social benefits like parental leave".

It comes as a new opinion poll shows Mr Coveney has overtaken Mr Varadkar as the public's favourite to replace Enda Kenny.

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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