Coveney claims TDs and Senators switched allegiance to Varadkar in leadership contest

Coveney aims to win back supporters in head-to-head debate

Mr Coveney says he still believes he can challenge for the leadership, despite securing the support of only about 20 of the 73 members of the parliamentary party. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Mr Coveney says he still believes he can challenge for the leadership, despite securing the support of only about 20 of the 73 members of the parliamentary party. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has claimed a number of Fine Gael TDs initially pledged their allegiance to him but later switched to Leo Varadkar in the contest for the Fine Gael party leadership.

Mr Coveney said his team had been frustrated by the public declarations for Mr Varadkar. They claim many of the TDs and Senators making them had supported Mr Coveney’s campaign in private.

Mr Coveney says he still believes he can challenge for the leadership, despite securing the support of only about 20 of the 73 members of the parliamentary party.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Coveney insisted the privacy of the ballot box may revive the contest.

“The real contest has now only begun. People are talking about what is the difference between the two candidates and what direction would either candidate take the country in.

“There is a real choice to be made here. When that choice is debated and discussed in blunt terms, I think at the end of that I will fare fairly well.”

The Minister is believed to be targeting some of those he claims have switched sides with a view to encouraging them to return to him. These include Minister of State Pat Breen, Senator Martin Conway, Senator Joe O’Reilly, Longford-Westmeath TD Peter Burke and Sligo-Leitrim TD Tony McLoughlin.

Head-to-head debate

The two Fine Gael leadership candidates will participate in their first head-to-head debate in Dublin on Thursday night. It will be their first opportunity to speak directly to rank and file party members and councillors, who between them have 35 per cent of the vote.

Mr Coveney has denounced Mr Varadkar’s proposals to rebrand Fine Gael as the “united Ireland party”, insisting this had been part and parcel of the party’s full title for generations. He was speaking after Mr Varadkar announced a number of proposals to reform Fine Gael if he was elected leader.

Included in Mr Varadkar’s ideas are a term limit for the general secretary of the party, a special delegate conference ahead of entering government and more powers for the deputy leader and the chairman of the parliamentary party.

Mr Varadkar said he would bring back “United Ireland Party” as a tagline for Fine Gael, and mark special events like the foundation of the State.

Launching his policy proposals, Mr Varadkar claimed Sinn Féin was the biggest threat to democracy and the prosperity of the State. If elected Fine Gael leader, he would aim to “expose” Sinn Féin and “take them on”.

Setting out his position on Northern Ireland, Mr Coveney said Fine Gael was a nationalist party with aspirations to unite this country.“What Fine Gael under my leadership would mean by a united Ireland is uniting communities in Northern Ireland. If I am Taoiseach I will use a huge amount of personal and professional time in Northern Ireland forging relationships within unionist communities.”

The Fine Gael hustings begin tonight in Dublin and a further three will take place in Carlow, Ballinasloe and Cork. The independent chairman for the meetings is businessman Gavin Duffy. Questions have been given to candidates in advance.