Varadkar not giving up on Fine Gael popular vote
Minister says contenders keen to ensure leadership race does not divide party
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar and Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys in Mullingar, at the launch of a plan for rural Ireland. Photograph: James Flynn/APX
The frontrunner in the Fine Gael leadership race, Leo Varadkar, has not ruled out the possibility of winning all three electoral colleges in the contest with Simon Coveney.
The Minister for Social Protection has a clear lead among the parliamentary party and is also ahead with the party’s county councillors, according to The Irish Times tracking poll.
Mr Varadkar on Monday said he did not necessarily agree that he was lagging behind Mr Coveney in the popular vote among the party’s 21,000 members.
Speaking to The Irish Times in Mullingar, Mr Varadkar said: “My campaign has always been very realistic about our prospects. Without being insulting to Mr Coveney’s team, they have tended to talk up their prospects. You will have seen that pan out very clearly over the past week or two.
“At least, based on the information we have, I have a clear lead with the parliamentarians and with the councillors as well.
“I actually don’t have any reliable information on the members and how they are going to turn out to vote.”
He said he knew he was receiving support in many parts of the country.
“I don’t think the results are going to show an urban-rural divide. A lot of members for obvious reasons will be advised and guided by their TDs and councillors,” he said.
Asked if the abrasive criticisms that he and Mr Coveney levelled at each other in the final hustings debate in Cork might lead to any divisions, he said he would meet his rival as soon as the contest was over to ensure such an outcome did not arise.
“Both Simon and I have stressed the fact that once the hustings are over and votes are counted, we shall each accept the outcome of the vote and combine to better the party and better the country.
“One of the first things I hope to do after the contest, if I am successful, is to meet Simon Coveney and talk to him the next day to see how we can work together and achieve that.”
Mr Varadkar was speaking after launching a 12-point plan for rural Ireland at an event in Mullingar, alongside supporters including Heather Humphreys, Michael Ring and Peter Burke.
He said he intended to hold a second “Gathering” in the coming years to replicate the success of the first one held in 2013. He also stressed the importance of rural broadband and roads, and said he would ensure nobody in rural Ireland was further than a certain radius from a local post office.
He denied a media report that he had sought to leave the Department of Health after the last general general election.
“I never had a choice. I was always assigned to a department by the Taoiseach . . . Any conversations I had with the Taoiseach about these matters were confidential.”
He added that his view was that no minister for health could turn around the department on their own but would need support and leadership from the office of the taoiseach.