Wednesday 22 November 2017

So let the voting begin - Varadkar has passed the hustings test

Jerry Buttimer and Damien English at the Fine Gael hustings at the Clayton Silver Springs Hotel, Cork. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
Jerry Buttimer and Damien English at the Fine Gael hustings at the Clayton Silver Springs Hotel, Cork. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Finally it's all over, bar the voting. Having started in Leo Varadkar's backyard, the Fine Gael roadshow came to a close in Simon Coveney's heartland.

It was a 'greatest hits' effort. We'd heard much of it over the previous three nights, but some of their best stuff was saved for the people of Co Cork.

Over the past week the country has been brought through the closest thing to a reality TV show where the ultimate prize is the job of Taoiseach.

We've seen the swing set in Mr Coveney's back garden, learned about Mr Varadkar's likes to play 'Star Wars' with his nephews and we have been treated to nightly debates hosted in a very Fine Gael way. Whichever man wins we probably know them better now than any previous incumbent - and that's not a bad thing.

In fairness to Enda Kenny he was always out meeting the people. The fact he was liable to put your conversation on the Dáil record afterwards was a separate issue.

But Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are very different from the man they want to replace, and from each other. The Dublin TD's personality has always been a big selling point.

Over the past week he has put herculean efforts into proving that he has policies too.

Throughout the debates he has surprised many, including some of his own supporters, with his level of detail on issues such as infrastructure, Brexit and even rural Ireland.

On the flip side the Cork TD has forever battled the idea that he is a boring policy wonk.

We have now grown to realise that he can be witty and he is well able to toss out the soundbites that he regularly criticises other politicians for using.

As the runaway favourite Mr Varadkar has been put under more scrutiny in recent days.

Journalists probed how he intends to pay for his 'big projects', some have demanded a clearer explanation of his view on abortion, others sought to know how right-wing he is.

But it was his battles with Simon Coveney that have stood out. They have gone toe-to-toe night after night.

Of course there has been a lot of agreement between the two candidates, as Mr Varadkar put it: "We're not Simon versus Leo, we're not Cork versus Dublin, we're not rural versus urban. We are Fine Gael."

Yet there has also been a very substantial debate about the type of party that is going to lead this country.

Both ministers defended their records and set out their visions.

At times it got a bit rough. Last night Mr Varadkar accused his rival of trying to do him and the party down.

He argued Mr Coveney's suggestion that he was not sharing and caring is "divisive" and "dishonest".

The reality is that coming from so far behind, the Cork TD had to go on the attack. He had to try to expose Mr Varadkar's weaknesses, put him on the spot and hope that he might crack. The Social Protection Minister didn't.

Instead he politely batted off the criticism and threw a few digs of his own.

People like to see a bit of fight from the underdog. Had Mr Varadkar responded in kind then he would have risked kicking a man while he's down.

He pushed it a little in Cork, asking: "What did Simon say he actually wants to do in his speech today?"

Over the four nights Simon Coveney won the hustings, but if the vote goes as expected Leo Varadkar will win the day.

The past four nights have been important for the Housing Minister to reclaim some of the credibility lost during the initial 48 hours of the campaign.

And it comes down to a simply question that Mr Coveney asked last night: "Who is best placed to energise and excite this party into the future?"

The answer is Leo Varadkar.

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

Irish Independent

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