'Strong argument' for Coveney to concede defeat as Leo sails towards a landslide victory
Supporters of Housing Minister Simon Coveney have discussed whether he should pull out of the Fine Gael leadership race rather than face a humiliating defeat.
Mr Coveney's campaign is in meltdown as Leo Varadkar sails towards a landslide victory in the battle to replace Enda Kenny. Sources told the Irish Independent that "big decisions have to be made" and there is a "strong argument" for conceding defeat.
Fine Gael senator Kieran O'Donnell is the latest to declare for Leo Varadkar; it is understood that the Limerick Senator has been seen as a Coveney target.
It is understood Mr Coveney wants to continue the fight, telling those close to him that even if he can't win, Fine Gael should still debate its future direction.
In a thinly veiled swipe at his opponent, Mr Coveney last night said believing polls and swaying with the wind, without any evidence or scrutiny, was weak.
Speaking at a private meeting in Ennis, Co Clare, he added: "But now we need a new start for this party.
"And may the best person win. But may the best person win after a process that has tested them fully so that we all know what we are voting for and who we are voting for.
"If that winner is Leo Varadkar, I will shake his hand and work with him to build a better country."
However, those backing the Cork TD accept only a major gaffe by Mr Varadkar will stall his march to power.
On a difficult day for Mr Coveney, he appeared at a press conference alongside junior minister Pat Breen and TD Joe Carey. The Irish Independent can now reveal that both Clare representatives have pledged their allegiance to Mr Varadkar.
Mr Breen said: "I believe he also has the ability, tenacity, ambition and imagination to lead our country into a new economically strong and progressive era."
Mr Coveney also lost out on expected endorsements from Waterford TD John Deasy and Limerick TD Tom Neville.
A decision by Cork-based Agriculture Minister Michael Creed not to express a preference is also seen as a major blow to Mr Coveney.
"I've obviously spoken to Michael about this. I'm sure Leo has too. There are lots of people in the party, I think, who remember the very difficult and very divisive leadership contests that Fine Gael have been through in the past. I think there's a long way to go yet and people like Michael Creed - I'm not going to start forcing them out. That's not my style," he said.
The decision of Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan to go with Mr Varadkar came as "a major shock" to Mr Coveney's team. Mr Flanagan described the Dublin West TD as the "change" candidate.
Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said he was "the most capable politician of my generation".
Mr Varadkar will hold a rally in Dublin today which was due to be his opening pitch in the race - which now appears all but over.
Fine Gael has booked hotels in Dublin, Cork, Ballinasloe and Carlow for hustings and has budgeted around €250,000 for running the contest.
The Social Protection Minister has already amassed 40 of the 73 votes in the parliamentary party, which amounts to about 35pc of the overall vote - even before councillors and party members are factored in.
"I'm really humbled at the level of support I have received from my colleagues," he said, yesterday, adding: "I'm not counting my chickens."
He will tell today's rally that he can offer "a new kind of leadership, a new way forward for Fine Gael and Ireland".
Extracts of his speech seen by the Irish Independent state: "Ireland stands at a crossroads. The economic collapse required strong and decisive government. We are emerging from what has been a lost decade for many of our people. We need new ambition to respond to the challenges that have built up, to meet the hopes, aspirations and needs of all our people."
He promises to make Fine Gael "a modern, campaigning party and a fighting force once again".
"With the right leadership, we can make Ireland a shining light for all our citizens and a country that provides equal opportunity for all, based on the values of integrity, hard work and respect, and underpinned by sound public finances and a growing economy."
Mr Coveney will hold his own rally in Cork tonight, where it is expected he will declare a desire to fight on.
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