Saturday 17 February 2018

Shock recording of Coveney in threat to Fianna Fail

Warning to FF that turns up heat in FG leader battle

Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Fine Gael leadership candidate Simon Coveney has made a dramatic general election warning at a behind-closed-doors meeting of Fine Gael, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

This newspaper has received a secret recording of Mr Coveney's threat to Fianna Fail at a meeting in Co Kerry last Friday night.

The Housing Minister told Fine Gael members that, should he be elected Fine Gael leader, he intends to "draw a line in the sand" with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.

And he warned that if Fianna Fail crossed that line then it would be held responsible for the consequences. "If that means an election, it means an election," he said.

Mr Coveney's comments, which are at odds with his stance in public, will significantly add to rapidly increasing tensions between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

Last night, a senior Fianna Fail source told the Sunday Independent: "Simon Coveney's statement smacks of the type of arrogance that got Fine Gael the result they got in the election."

Ministers Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Ministers Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath

In the recording, Mr Coveney is heard to say that Fine Gael should not lose its "values and principles" while being supported in Government by Fianna Fail.

He said: "Every now again when we are in Government and we are being pushed by Fianna Fail we will have to draw a line in the sand and say we are not crossing that line and, if you force us to, well, then be responsible for the consequences for that - including an election."

However, he added that he believed an election would be "unlikely to happen" this year and said he hoped Fine Gael would "move through 2017 after a leadership change and still be a stable, strong Government".

Last night a Fianna Fail source said: "Fianna Fail has its principles as well. Our main aim is to put the country first. This is the first confidence and supply arrangement ever, and that comes with compromise on all sides, but some not mature enough are finding it harder to adapt."

Now Mr Coveney's election threat will raise fresh concerns over the stability of the Government as Fine Gael faces a prolonged leadership contest in the coming weeks.

His comments came two weeks after Mr Martin warned the Government would collapse if there was a breach of the "spirit" of the confidence and supply agreement.

Last Friday, a spokeswoman for Mr Coveney played down the prospect of an election and said maintaining the three-year confidence and supply agreement would be the "focus of the new Taoiseach".

Those comments were in response to Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar confirming he would not call a snap election should he become the next Fine Gael leader. "I don't think anybody wants a general election; not politicians and not the general public," Mr Varadkar said.

However, in Kerry, Mr Coveney said Fine Gael members should "not for one minute mistake" Fianna Fail's commitment to the confidence and supply agreement as Martin's party "co-operating" with Fine Gael.

"That is co-operation because Fianna Fail sees it within their interests, because they weren't able to form a government. They want to be seen as responsible and supporting government because the people didn't want another election and so their political strategy is to support a government," he said.

Mr Coveney's 20-minute address to party members was billed as the first significant speech of the leadership contest, and the minister notably used the event to set out his vision for the party.

He described the country as the most "divided society" he has seen since entering politics and said Fine Gael should seek to attract votes from people who support "protest parties" such as Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit.

"We have got to be a Government and a party that represents everybody whether you are in social housing or a mansion, whether you are on a small, rough farm on a mountainside, or whether you are a big dairy farm growing and expanding, you have to be of interest to fine Gael," he said. He added Fine Gael should "not leave anyone behind" if the country is to avoid the "street protest politics" which have emerged in other European countries. The minister's call for Fine Gael to lure far-left voters is in stark contrast to recent comments from his leadership rival, Social Protection Minister Varadkar, who plans to focus on the party's core support should he become leader.

Writing in the Sunday Independent two weeks ago, Mr Varadkar said FG is for "the Ireland that gets up early, the taxpayer, citizens who obey the law and are ambitious for themselves, their children and their communities".

He added: "We represent people who don't expect the Government to do everything for them, but who do expect the Government to help them or get out of the way."

The opposing ideological views of the two main leadership candidates will present Fine Gael members with the difficult choice.

In Kerry, Mr Coveney warned that the leadership contest would be a significant challenge for the party.

"It is a difficult thing to manage because of personal ambitions because people in the party having different support bases and also the sort of other things that those of you who have been involved in politics and in Fine Gael for years understand as well as I do," he said.

"There are many people in politics outside of Fine Gael who want to see the party implode and want to see this minority Government fail. I think we can prove them wrong on both counts."

He also added he "trusted" Taoiseach Enda Kenny to set out a timeline for his departure soon after he returns from a State visit to Washington for St Patrick's Day.

Sunday Independent

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