Outspoken Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell has come under fire for her attack on Leo Varadkar supporters at a campaign rally for Simon Coveney in Co Clare.
Ms O'Connell branded Mr Varadkar's supporters "choirboys" who are "singing for their suppers" and personally attacked her constituency colleague Eoghan Murphy, who is the minister's campaign director.
The Sunday Independent has learned Ms O'Connell was contacted by officials from Fine Gael headquarters about the comments and told to refrain from launching further verbal attacks during the campaign. A senior source in Mount Street said Ms O'Connell was told there would be consequences if she stepped out of line again at future campaign events.
"The word was passed back to her and the camp that the comments were outrageous. The comments were very close to the line," a source said.
The leadership candidates are bound by rules set out by Fine Gael's ethics committee which were put in place to ensure the contest is fair and balanced. Fine Gael headquarters is anxious that the contest does not become personal and split the party.
Last Friday night, Varadkar supporters were told not to respond to Ms O'Connell's comments when they emerged online soon after a Fine Gael event in Ennis, Co Clare.
Yesterday, TDs were privately critical of the comments but would not speak publicly.
At his campaign launch in Dublin, Mr Varadkar was asked about Ms O'Connell's remarks but refused to comment. During her speech in Co Clare, Ms O'Connell described TDs who have come out in support of Mr Varadkar as "boys that are singing for their supper".
"I am very disappointed at the last few days. At the choreographed, coordinated choirboys that came out," she said.
She later attacked Eoghan Murphy for his role in running Mr Varadkar's campaign.
"I have watched the campaign manager of the other side for a long time as a member of Dublin Bay South. And I know the form and I am not shocked at what has happened over the past 48 hours," she added.
She said Fine Gael has "members of their parliamentary party that are afraid of what is ahead of them".
"We need a Fine Gael leader that puts manners on the Cowens and puts manners on the Martins who destroyed the dignity of this country," she said.
Some of Mr Coveney's supporters yesterday also privately questioned the appropriateness of Ms O'Connell's comment and suggested they would not help the Housing Minister's campaign.
Ms O'Connell did not respond to requests for comment last night but a source close to the Dublin Bay South TD sought to play down the reaction to the comments from Mr Varadkar's supporters.
Fine Gael leadership candidates have been asked to sign a code of conduct ahead of the vote next month.
"They have to enter into a contract with us and that has been hammered out with the candidates," a source said.
The rules centre on candidates' spending, access to membership data, polling and canvassing during the campaign.
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.
|Richard Bruton -Minister||Simon Harris - Minister|
|Frances Fitzgerald - Minister||Damien English - Minister|
|Michael Ring - Minister||Dara Murphy - Minister|
|Eoghan Murphy - Minister||David Stanton - Minister|
|Sean Kyne - Minister||Marcella Corcoran Kennedy - Minister|
|Joe McHugh - Minister||Kate O'Connell - TD|
|Helen McEntee - Minister||Maria Bailey - TD|
|Charlie Flanagan - Minister||Sean Barrett TD|
|Paul Kehoe -Minister||Hildegard Naughton - TD|
|Patrick O'Donovan - Minister||Peter Fitzpatrick - TD|
|Regina Doherty - Minister||Tim Lombard - Senator|
|Mary Mitchell O'Connor - Minister||Jerry Buttimer - Senator|
|Paschal Donohoe - Minister||Paudie Coffey - Senator|
|Heather Humphreys - Minister||James Reilly - Senator|
|Pat Breen - Minister||Colm Burke - Senator|
|Catherine Byrne - Minister||John O'Mahony - Senator|
|Andrew Doyle - Minister||Paul Coghlan - Senator|
|John Paul Phelan - TD||Gabrielle McFadden - Senator|
|Noel Rock - TD||Deirdre 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 - Minister||Michael Creed - Minister|
|Bernard Durkan - TD||Sean Kelly - MEP|
|Mairead McGuinness MEP|
* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement
There are restrictions on what polling companies campaigners can use and headquarters insisted they use industry standard research.
There were some concerns among party officials about research being used to canvass supporters by both candidates.
There are also restrictions around electioneering, putting out posters and what they can spend funding on.
The candidates are also expected to abide by rules on election spending and donations received. All donations will have to be declared with the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).
They will also have to declare with the party what they plan to spend during the election campaign.
However, there will be no limit on spending as they told officials it would be hard to implement.
HOUSING Minister Simon Coveney is holding strategy meetings with his closest advisors amid mounting pressure for him to end his Fine Gael leadership bid given the near unassailable lead already boasted by his rival, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.