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'Leo got off to a good start but declarations are not votes' - Simon Coveney optimistic as contest rumbles on

Leo Varadkar welcomes decision by his rival Simon Coveney to stay in FG leadership race


Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney Photo: Frank McGrath

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney Photo: Frank McGrath

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney Photo: Frank McGrath

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has said he must appeal to Fine Gael TDs and senators who have declared for Leo Varadkar to change their minds as his leadership campaign continues.

Speaking at the publication of his roadmap to change Party, Government and the country this morning, Coveney said some TDs he would have expected from support from have sided with Leo Varadkar to be avoid being caught on the losing side.

"What happened over the last three days has obviously been very disappointing," Coveney said. "A week ago, the numbers we would have did and looked at would have been 50-50."

"In a leadership contest, you have a large group of people looking to see where the tides are going to see where they stand, and I don’t blame them for that."

"Momentum developed on Leo’s side. Then, people came to me saying “I see where this is going. I don’t want to be caught offside. I hope you understand."

"If we had the first husting on day one, when members were involved in the discussion before any declarations were made, it would have been a much healthier situation," he added.

Speaking afterwards to Brian Dowling on RTÉ Radio One, Coveney reiterated that he will plan to persuade colleagues in the Fine Gael parliamentary party to change their declarations.

"As I say, Leo got off to a good start but declarations are not votes. When people hear what I have to say, you might see people changing their minds," Coveney told RTÉ Radio One.

"We well may get a lot more than 20.  Clearly though, if I’m going to win this some of the people who have declared for Leo will have to change their minds."

Coveney’s policy says that if Ireland is to become a compassionate, tolerant and progressive society through Fine Gael leadership three things need to be done:

1.Set out a clear reform agenda for the Fine Gael party, drawing on the lessons we learned from the last General Election.

2.Modernise Government to make it much more effective at delivering ambitious policy goals; and

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3.Deliver a clear vision for transforming Ireland into a country in which every person has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.

Outlining his policies in Dublin this morning, Coveney outlined a number of new introductions he would like to make including ‘Ireland 2040’: a national plan focused on “strategic capital funding” and doubling the size of cities in Ireland by the year 2040.

"I can’t remember in my lifetime a national plan for Ireland and I’ve always wondered why this is the case," Coveney said.

"We’re down to virtually full employment. Now is the time to put a national plan together. We need to start spending capital strategically in order to re-balance this country."

Another portion of Coveney’s policy was focused on pushing for the reunification of Ireland through what he described as "a spirit of engagement".

"I am a nationalist. I am unapologetic about that. I want to see a United Ireland."

"If I am ever Taoiseach, I will spend a huge amount of personal time talking to, relating to and trying to understand Unionist communities in Northern Ireland."

Other policies outlined by the current Minister for Housing included the creation of an ‘Anti -Corruption and Transparency Commission’ to respond to whistleblowers and potential corruption and the commitment towards leading "the greenest government in the history of the State".

Coveney was supported by Minister for Health Simon Harris at today’s policy launch, who reiterated his support for his colleague despite the challenges they face.

"I’m particularly proud to support Simon now because the last few days have been tough but when the going gets tough, the tough get going,"Harris said.

"We don’t need a coronation. We need a conversation, we need a debate."

"People last night were sending a clear message that this contest is only beginning, and that people want a big discussion," he added in reference to last night’s rally in Cork.

Earlier, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar welcomed the decision by his rival Simon Coveney to stay in the Fine Gael leadership race.

Despite chasing an unassailable lead Mr Coveney has said he will take part in four hustings around the country later this week.

Some supporters have urged the Housing Minister to accept Mr Varadkar is destined to be Taoiseach and pull out of the contest.

But speaking before taking part in Athletics Ireland's Streets of Dublin 5k run today Mr Varadkar said he wants the leadership vote on June 2 to go ahead.

"I’m very keen as well that the contest should continue and I’m pleased that Simon Coveney decided to stay in the contest because it’s absolutely important that we take this debate and this opportunity to reinvigorate Fine Gael to the councillors, to the members across the country," he said.

Mr Varadkar said he wants councillors and the party membership to have a say as it will give the new leader a stronger mandate.

He also moved to try reassure people that he is not planning a snap General Election.

“I have no plans whatsoever for an early election. We have a confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil. We have a Programme for Government negotiated and agreed with Independents and it’s my intention to honour those agreements if I’ve the opportunity to lead Fine Gael.”

Mr Varadkar took part in the city run along with his campaign director and junior minister Eoghan Murphy and Roscommon senator Maura Hopkins.

At Minister Coveney's event at Dublin's Dean Hotel this morning, Simon Harris said that he is "particularly proud to support Coveney now because the last days have been tough - but when the going gets tough the tough get going."

"As we grapple with the challenge of Brexit we must ask ourselves who is best to step up to that challenge?," he said.

"We don't need a coronation. We need a conversation. We need a debate".

Mr Coveney insisted last night that he was not withdrawing from the race, saying that if Mr Varadkar wins, he will "wish him well."

"When this process is over, and completed in full, if Leo Varadkar (does) win out, and he is chosen to lead this party, then fair play to him," Mr Coveney said.

"I will shake his hand - I might even give him a hug.

"I will wish him well and I will work with him as I hope you will to ensure that this party is stronger at the end of this process not weaker. To ensure that this party is more united than ever at the end of this process rather than divided - because, believe me, if there is any other outcome to this process this party will not do itself justice in the context of the leadership process that is now underway.

"Let me be equally clear - we are not done just yet," he added.

The votes from Fine Gael TDs and Senators will account for 65pc of the overall vote, with 25pc of votes coming from party members and the remaining 10pc from local representatives.

Nominations for the leadership contest closed at 5pm yesterday.

Voting for almost 21,000 eligible party members will take place nationwide at 26 polling stations over four days from Monday, May 29.

The new leader of Fine Gael will be in place by June 2.

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 
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


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