Regina Doherty backs Leo Varadkar in Fine Gael leadership race

Simon Coveney vows to continue fight , despite rival’s 39 backers to his 20

Minister for Housing, Simon Coveney, has released a campaign video in his bid to become Fine Gael leader. Video: Simon Coveney

 

Fine Gael chief whip Regina Doherty has publicly declared her support for Leo Varadkar as the party’s next leader.

She is among four Ministers and four TDs who added their support to Mr Varadkar’s campaign to succeed Enda Kenny during the day.

Earlier on Friday Fine Gael leadership challenger Simon Coveney admitted that the momentum is with Mr Varadkar but rejected any suggestion of conceding.

The Minister for Housing, who now has the backing of 20 parliamentary-party colleagues against 39 for Mr Varadkar, said: “I am not naive. Clearly, there is a lot of momentum for Leo today, and good luck to him.”

FG leadership tracker: track the contest and check who your local TD, Senator, MEP and councillor is supporting.

Mr Coveney said that it “would be doing a disservice to the party” to consider halting his campaign and that “people need to understand and hear in detail what the candidates who are intending to lead the party and country are about”.

Coveney confident of victory

Mr Coveney, who won new support on Friday with the backing of the Galway West TD Hildegarde Naughton and the Dún Laoghaire TD Sean Barrett, said he is not panicked by the numbers declaring for Mr Varadkar and believes he will win the contest. “I have fought a lot of elections, and I have never lost,” he told Clare FM.

Ms Doherty is latest member of the parliamentary party to back Mr Varadkar – the 73-strong group consists of all Fine Gael TDs, Senators and MEPs. Both candidates also have the support of about 60 councillors. Some of these have yet to publicly declare their hand, however.

Ms Doherty said she was supporting Mr Vardkar for his intellligence, integrity, sincerity and ability to listen.

Speaking for the first time since the contest was announced, Mr Varadkar said he was not “counting his chickens yet”. The Minister for Social Protection told reporters: “This is day two of a 16-day campaign.”

“Most difficult decision”

Earlier on Friday the Waterford TD John Deasy, who is personally close to both candidates, came out in support of Mr Varadkar. He described it as the most difficult political decision of his life.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe, Minister of State at the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe, Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd and Sligo Leitrim North TD Tony McLoughlin also all backed Mr Varadkar.

Mr Donohoe’s support is also significant, as he is one of the most influential members of the Cabinet and has been tipped as a potential minister for finance once Michael Noonan steps down after the leadership race.

Commanding lead

Mr Varadkar now has the support of twice as many of the party’s TDs and Senators as his main rival, Simon Coveney, during the first 24 hours of the race.

But the Minister for Housing is hoping a substantial number of the 15 parliamentary-party members who have yet to publicly support either candidate will help him close the gap on his rival.

His supporters hope to narrow Mr Varadkar’s lead, or pull ahead of him, before the series of hustings that will take place next week and mark the engagement between the candidates and rank-and-file members. Under Fine Gael rules the parliamentary party commands 65 per cent of the votes, with councillors getting 10 per cent and the 21,000 members 25 per cent.

Up for grabs

In another significant development that further signalled generational change within Fine Gael, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan announced he would not seek a place in the next cabinet and would not stand at the next election.

Mr Varadkar sought to set a strong early pace by organising a large number of declarations for his candidacy. The focus will now turn to a number of Ministers who have yet to outline whom they will support. These include Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.

Ms Fitzgerald decided against standing for the leadership, as did Minister for Education Richard Bruton, who immediately said he would be supporting Mr Varadkar.