Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness attends Simon Coveney leadership rally
Simon Coveney received a campaign boost tonight as undeclared Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness attended a leadership rally in Cavan tonight.
Ms McGuinness arrived late to the event and sat in the audience listening to contributions from Mr Coveney and his supporters.
Mr Coveney thanked the MEP for attending and joked he would not praise her too much as he would be accused of canvassing her.
The minister then said Ms McGuinness could one day be President of European Parliament.
However, Ms McGuinness later addressed the crowd saying she would not be declaring before the leadership hustings later this week.
At the event, a number of parliamentary party supporters set out Mr Coveney’s political strengths as they pushed to secure the votes of ordinary Fine Gael members.
Former Health Minister James Reilly said Mr Coveney would be a leader who looked after the people who get up early in the morning and those who can’t get up early in the morning.
Current Health Minister Simon Harris said pundits who are writing of Mr Coveney’s chances are the same people who said Taoiseach Enda Kenny would lose the 2010 Fine Gael leadership heave, Brexit would not happen and Hillary Clinton would win the US presidential election.
Around 150 members attended the campaign event in Hotel Kilmore.
Earlier on Tuesday evening, Mr Coveney boldly predicted he expects to win over the support of the Fine Gael TDs who have not publicly stated their voting intentions in the leadership race.
Mr Coveney did not name individuals but those who have not yet declared included Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan. In total, seven Fine Gael parliamentary party members remain undeclared.
Mr Coveney refused to comment on whether he was still working on securing the vote of Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, who has not stated his voting intentions and is the only other Cabinet minister from Cork.
Speaking before a campaign rally in Cavan, Mr Coveney said: “Michael Creed isn’t the only person who has done that.”
“There are a number of others as well and I think I will do pretty well among that group of TDs who have decided to keep their voting intentions to themselves,” he added.
The Housing Minister also predicted he would win over the support of the membership by beating Leo Varadkar in all four leadership debates due to take place in the coming days.
He said he was having private conversations with TDs and senators who have pledged to vote for Mr Varadkar but refused to give the names of those he has spoken with.
He said if “half a dozen” parliamentary party members changed their minds it would make the leadership contest a “tight race”.
“I think I need to win back some of them but I’m not going to start naming names publicly and then start putting them under the spotlight of huge pressure, that wouldn’t be a very clever strategy from my point of view,” he added.
He agreed with the suggestion that Mr Varadkar’s review of the first-time buyers grant included in his policy document was a “ball of smoke” as an audit of the Government grant was already underway.
“I don’t think there was anything new in what Leo said so I don’t quite know why he put it into the document,” he said.
However, Mr Coveney insisted there was no awkwardness between him and Mr Varadkar when they spoke at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
“We said good luck and that we would respect each other,” he said.