Sunday 19 November 2017

Extended leadership contest could fracture party, warns Coveney

Taoiseach Enda Kenny Picture: Tom Burke
Taoiseach Enda Kenny Picture: Tom Burke
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

Housing Minister Simon Coveney warned against the dangers of a divisive and fractious Fine Gael leadership battle.

The warning came as the Cork TD said he expected the party and country to have a new leader by the summer break.

Mr Coveney flatly rejected reports he was preparing to launch his leadership bid in Cork tonight, but confirmed he had been sounding out party members in recent times over a challenge for the leadership.

He also said he would be fully open to a series of televised debates between the Fine Gael leadership candidates.

"I have said many times that I think this will happen before the summer break and I still think that is the case," he said.

Fears had mounted that if Taoiseach Enda Kenny remained beyond June, it could impact on the eligibility of some party members to vote.

Mr Coveney, speaking in Cork, bluntly warned that the leadership succession needed to be resolved without causing damaging party splits.

"We have a new system now of electing a leader and it has never been tried or tested before," he said.

"It will last 19 or 20 days, which is much longer than we have had before.

"So obviously there are dangers of divisions... politics is a competitive process. It often involves pretty fractious relationships during leadership changes. So we need to avoid that as best we can.

"We trust Enda Kenny to make the right decision here from a timing perspective and from a process perspective. I have been saying that for some time which is why you don't hear me trying to rush the Taoiseach or anything like that."

He stressed he had no difficulty with proposed TV debates.

"I think I have made the same comments as Leo (Varadkar) has. Maybe he made it in a different way to me on the plinth of the Dáil," he said.

"I have always said I welcome debate. I am not exactly shy of the media."

Mr Coveney also flatly dismissed reports he was about to launch his leadership bid before Mr Kenny had flagged the transition timetable.

"I have read about that - that is not true. I will not be launching anything until there is a formal contest under way," he said.

"I think that would be totally inappropriate. We have a Taoiseach, we have a party leader.

"He is a strong, effective and successful party leader and until he decides that there is a leadership process under way, I will not be launching any campaign."

Irish Independent

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