'He's still in it to win it' - Damien English on Simon Coveney's leadership race
Simon Coveney's campaign team admit they thought they would have had more support but are confident he could still win the Fine Gael leadership race.
Coveney's campaign manager Damien English said despite Leo Varadkar being the early favourite to fill Enda Kenny's role, Housing Minister Coveney is still "in it to win it."
Speaking about people who he assumed would back Coveney, Deputy English said this morning: "This is something we can look at when the campaign finishes up but we would have assumed from soundings and meeting people that both candidates would have about 30 votes and the rest would be up for grabs.
"I only explained this yesterday at our own press conference at our policy launch that sometimes on the middle ground when there's a momentum behind a certain candidate that that middle ground will move over, these things can happen.
"Our job for the next few weeks - and this is why the process is important - is that Simon Coveney has said that he was always looking forward to having the hustings and this conversation with the members and councillors bringing in the news of the country, the policies to the overall party, the 21,000 people who have a vote.
"We feel very strongly that Simon will do very well in that discussion and will gain very well in that over the next two weeks.
"The voting doesn't start until Monday week and all our party colleagues who have made their declaration don't vote until June 2, so over the next few weeks we'll be trying to convince them to vote for Simon Coveney as the leader of the party.
"Everyone has their own reasons for voting but I assume most people will vote for who they believe is the best candidate to be leader of Fine Gael and the Taoiseach.
"We believe that it's important people hear what Simon has to say and he has the chance to put out there what his policies are.
"Yes the numbers will be a difficult gap to close but it is very much possible and Simon Coveney is in this to win it."
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast he noted that many politicians have publicly declared their support for a Coveney or Varadkar without hearing all their policies and said perhaps this should be reviewed.
He said: "There's a lot of interest in who TDs and Senators will give their vote to, it's something that maybe we should look at in the future and whether we should do the hustings at the very start of this process, it would be very difficult to organise but it's something we should certainly consider.
"TDs have been having these conversations and some of these campaigns would have kicked off a year ago, some were more recent and haven't had a chance to talk about this.
"I think it might be better if everyone held back until the actual day of voting."
Deputy English also dismissed suggestions that Coveney's supporters are worried about their future prospects if he doesn't win.
He said: "It's not a concern, we're all big boys and girls and it's very important that this debate takes place and at the end votes for who they think will be the best leader.
"I understand that Simon and Leo will pick who they believe is the best candidate to run the country and each department when this process ends.
"We're lucky in Fine Gael to have a lot of talent to pick from when it comes to choosing the team to run the country."
Deputy Maria Bailey also said this morning that it's important that people hear from both candidates before casting their vote.
Speaking on Morning Ireland on RTE Radio One, she said: "The party is not just about 73 parliamentary members but about 21,000 plus members, the heart and soul of the party, the foot soldiers throughout the year regardless of elections who are canvassing, attending Fine Gael meeting, who are speaking to their neighbours and getting the message out.
"They are entitled to hear both capable contenders, they are entitled to question them, to ask them the hard questions and to see what they bring to the table...
"I absolutely do (believe people may change who they're voting for), I'm in Fine Gael the best part of 20 years and anyone going into the Seanad can tell you that the guaranteed votes they have going into the election isn't always the case when the box is opened."
The Dún Laoghaire representative also said she thinks that Coveney could still win back support from people who have said they'll back Coveney.
She said: "Unfortunately on the day the whistle was blown for the leadership race there was a momentum behind Leo Varadkar and his people came out quicker than ours and that's just fact.
"That's not to say we can't win them back through discussion and dialogue about where the party is going."
MEP Sean Kelly stressed that he think it's key to have a selection of candidates to pick from.
He said on Morning Ireland: "This is an opportunity to engage with members, to revitalise the party, it would be terrible if one withdrew...
"I'm concerned both candidates would have the opportunity to set out their stall and vision for Ireland and more importantly what plan they have
"All those things are worth sorting out at the hustings, it means we are all in a better position to move forward together ."