Saturday 16 December 2017

Coveney offers jobs in late bid to lure support from Varadkar

Leo Varadkar (left) and Simon Coveney. Photo: Arthur Carron.
Leo Varadkar (left) and Simon Coveney. Photo: Arthur Carron.

Philip Ryan and Kevin Doyle

Senior figures in Simon Coveney's campaign team have offered ministerial roles to TDs in return for switching from his rival Leo Varadkar ahead of tomorrow's vote in the Fine Gael leadership contest.

Two TDs backing Mr Varadkar have confirmed to the Irish Independent they were offered ministries by representatives of Mr Coveney's camp if they agreed to vote for him.

It is understood that a total of four TDs who have been approached by Mr Coveney's supporters have reported the contact back to Mr Varadkar's team. The Social Protection Minister's camp discussed using the information to damage Mr Coveney's leadership bid but decided against it.

A source in Mr Coveney's camp admitted there would be a "degree" of seeking to lure TDs over to their side by offering ministries. "There is a low hanging fruit and there are people he (Mr Coveney) should never have lost who are coming home," a source said.

Another source said Mr Coveney can say with "credibility that he has scope to appoint ministers" as Mr Varadkar has too many supporters to keep happy if he becomes Taoiseach.

A source close to Mr Coveney yesterday insisted he did not personally offer jobs to any TDs.

However, his supporters believe they can still convince around five or six parliamentary party members who have declared for Mr Varadkar to change allegiance in the secrecy of the ballot box.

Those who switch sides would not be expected to declare publicly but would be looked favourably upon if Mr Coveney was elected leader.

Both sides in the leadership contest have made claims about supporters changing sides in the final week of the campaign.

Mr Coveney's supporters said they believed at least two members of the Varadkar team would weigh in behind the Housing Minister tomorrow.

In response, Mr Varadkar's team said two parliamentary party members who had declared for Mr Coveney had privately committed to backing its candidate.

Mr Varadkar's team last night remained confident it will win the contest by a substantial margin despite the last-minute manoeuvres.

Sources close to the minister say Mr Coveney's chances of a comeback have been "damaged" by the turnout levels in key Cork constituencies.

In Mr Coveney's heartland of Cork South Central, Cork North Central and Cork East turnout averaged 59pc, or a total of 912 votes. Nationwide Fine Gael officials are putting the turnout at 52pc so far.

"The Cork vote is above the national figure but not enough to meaningfully impact the overall position of the contest and suggests that the local enthusiasm for Simon may have been overstated," a Varadkar source said.

The final constituencies will vote this evening before the parliamentary party meets to cast its ballots tomorrow.

Counting will the take place in the Mansion House where the results of the membership, councillor and parliamentary party votes will be announced separately. A final result is expected by 6pm.

Meanwhile, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has launched an attack on Mr Varadkar saying he doesn't understand the green economy.

The two candidates clashed on environmental issues during the final debate last Sunday after Mr Coveney said he would like to see Mr Ryan as Climate Change Minister in the future.

In response, Mr Varadkar expressed concern that his party colleague was making overt propositions to the Green Party. Yesterday Mr Ryan said the Social Protection Minister "doesn't seem to realise the green economy is the one that's growing, particularly in rural Ireland".

Irish Independent

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