Richard Bruton rules himself out of FG leadership bid, says he will support Varadkar
EDUCATION Minister Richard Bruton has backed Leo Varadkar in the Fine Gael leadership race.
In a significant endorsement, Mr Bruton said he believes Mr Varadkar has the “strengths” required to address the challenges facing the country and the Fine Gael party.
Speaking outside the Department of Education in Dublin, Mr Bruton admitted that he carefully considered throwing his own hat in the ring for the leadership.
But he said believes Mr Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney are “best placed” to succeed Enda Kenny as Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael.
“I think at this time the other two candidates are in a better place to lead the sort of challenge that we face,” he added.
While confirming he will vote for Mr Varadkar in the contest next month, Mr Bruton said he is not going to take an active role in the race itself.
Referring to his own unsuccessful heave against Mr Kenny in 2010, Mr Bruton warned against any type of campaign that leaves “hurt and division” within the party ranks.
“We do need to see an order and approach maintained so that at the end of all of this there isn’t hurt and division as a legacy for the party that has been damaging in the past. I know that from personal experience.”
Mr Bruton said he has not sought any such position in the next Cabinet, regardless of who wins.
He said he contacted Mr Coveney this morning to inform him of his decision but was not able to reach Mr Varadkar.
“This will be the first Leo would have heard (of my decision),” he added.
His decision not to run comes after Frances Fitzgerald had earlier said she would not be contesting either.
It paves the way for a straight shoot out between the Social Protection minister Varadkar and the Housing Minister Simon Coveney.
Enda Kenny stood aside as Fine Gael leader on Wednesday but is to stay on as Taoiseach for now. His successor will be appointed on 2 June.
Frances Fitzgerald confirmed earlier this morning that after having “seriously considering” a tilt at becoming the next Taoiseach, she has decided it would not be “the right decision” for her.
“I have been touched by the encouragement and support I have received,” she said.
Ms Fitzgerald issued a statement saying she looks forward to “the campaign and the bright future ahead for Fine Gael”.
She did not indicate who she would be supporting.
Mr Coveney launched his bid for the Fine Gael leadership today with declarations from ministers Simon Harris, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Damien English and David Stanton.
His message will be built around “strong, positive government with big ideas”.
“As far as I’m concerned I’m fighting for the soul of this party,” he said.
Mr Coveney said he believes the new leader should not just manage an economy but also focus on making people’s lives better.
He said his manifesto will be an attempt to “re-balance this country away from the dominance of Dublin so that rural people and rural parishes can believe in their futures again.”
Asked whether he has the X Factor, Mr Coveney said: “That depends on what you describe as the X Factor. For me it’s about honest, strong, deliver.
“I don’t think that a family living in a hotel room this evening is looking for a Taoiseach with X Factor. They are looking for a Taoiseach who’ll solve their problems.”
Earlier, various TDs and Senators told Sean O'Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1 who they were backing in the race for the next leader of Fine Gael.
Fine Gael's Deputy Leader, James Reilly is supporting Simon Coveney and has submitted his resignation to the parliamentary party.
"I believe he has the temperament, a hardworking ethos, a sense of collegiality, not afraid to take on the hard issues of housing and Irish water," he said.
"He's an experienced negotiator, he manages to be polite but firm, he doesn't antagonise people. The new leader needs to be able to negotiate with the Independence Alliance and Fianna Fáil."
Damien English, junior minister at the Dept of Housing, unsurprisingly confirmed that he will support Mr Coveney.
Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes told the show that he would be supporting Mr Varadkar for leader, saying he feels he will appeal to a younger generation.
"He has grown into a politician of some standing in recent years since his election and, I think, more than anything else he really appeals to a diverse Ireland; and Ireland that is rapidly changing and I think at him at the helm he will do very well," he said.
It's early days in the contest but other prominent TDs to have made their allegiance known include Galway East TD from FG, Ciaran Cannon, Alan Farrell from Dublin Fingal and Pat Deering from Carlow-Kilkenny who said they will be backing Mr Varadkar.
Among those supporting Mr Coveney are Maria Bailey, TD for Dun Laoghaire and Kate O’Connell from Dublin Bay South.
A number of Senators have come out this lunchtime to say they will support Mr Varadkar. They are: Sen. Paddy Burke, Sen. Ray Butler, Sen. Maria Byrne, Sen. Martin Conway, Sen. Frank Feighan, Sen. Maura Hopkins, Sen. Michelle Mulherin, Sen. Catherine Noone and Sen. Neale Richmond.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan says he will be engaging with leadership candidates over the coming days but has not picked a side.
The Minister has also ruled out throwing his hat into the ring, admitting if he was "10 years younger" it would be a different story.
Mr Flanagan brushed off any suggestion that his cabinet seat may be at risk if he does not pick a side soon in the contest.
"I won't be contesting the Fine Gael leadership, I'm perfectly happy and fully occupied in my brief as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, facing all the challenges that go with that position," Mr Flanagan said.
"But I will be engaging with all the candidates over the coming days and will be making my position clear prior to the formal voting taking place.
"I have an open mind, I believe it's important that the party engages fully in what can be a very exciting time for Fine Gael," he added.