Wednesday 22 November 2017

Varadkar: We must avoid divisiveness in leadership battle

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney (right). Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin
Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney (right). Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Cormac McQuinn Political Correspondent

LEO Varadkar has said he has no agreement with his main rival Simon Coveney for how the Fine Gael leadership race will play out, but that they share the view that "divisiveness" must be avoided.

Mr Varadkar confirmed that he had discussions with Mr Coveney before Taoiseach Enda Kenny's statement to the parliamentary party last Wednesday night when he said will deal witht he leadership issue when he returns from his St Patrick's Day trip to the United States.

The social protection minister said that he and Mr Coveney were: "both of the view that the feeling of the vast majority of people in the parliamentary party was to avoid a motion of no confidence, avoid division and divisiveness.

"And there was a very strong view in the parliamentary party that people didn't want to do that or go down that route."

"We didn't come to an agreement... we know each other, we talk, but we don't have formal agreements or a joint strategy or anything like that," Mr Varadkar said.

He was speaking on RTÉ Radio this morning.

Mr Varadkar said: "the formal campaign hasn't started. The vacancy hasn't yet arisen. I'm really looking forward to giving you my pitch but I'm not going to do it now. I don't think today's the day to do that."

He added: "What I am looking forward to is outlining how we can turn Fine Gael into a fighting force again. One we can broaden the base of the party, start a conversation with people who don't vote for us yet and also how we can move to the next phase of our development."

Mr Varadkar said that whoever the candidates are "We are all in the one party. We aren't going to have enormous policy differences."

Of his relationship with Mr Coveney, who is considered the other main contender to succeed Mr Kenny, he said: "We're in touch. We get on very well. We've known each other for years. We're a similar age. We meet and chat all the time and the two of us are very determined to make sure that whatever the outcome is that the party's united thereafter and that it can do well."

But he added: "I know the media focuses on me and Simon. I think it's important to remind people that there are lots of other leading figures in Fine Gael.

"You have people like Richard Bruton, Frances Fitzgerald, Paschal [Donohoe], Simon Harris and others so I don't think people should make the assumption that it's all about the two of us."

Asked if he would have a deal with Mr Coveney, along the lines of the infamous 1990s leadership agreement between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the British Labour Party, Mr Varadkar replied "no".

He also said the role of Tánaiste has not been discussed.

"But one thing I do want to say is I am looking forward to the contest," he added.

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