Fine Gael contest about policies not personal lives, says Coveney

‘My private life and my family life are not going to be an issue,’ says Leo Varadkar

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar. Mr Coveney said the contest for leadership of Fine Gael should be about “vision and ambition for the country”. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar. Mr Coveney said the contest for leadership of Fine Gael should be about “vision and ambition for the country”. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

 

The Fine Gael leadership contest should be about the future of the country and the party and not the personal lives of candidates, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney, one of the frontrunners to succeed Taoiseach Enda Kenny as Fine Gael leader, was reacting to recent media coverage of his main rival, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar.

Some coverage caused controversy over its treatment of Mr Varadkar and his partner. Mr Varadkar announced in 2015 that he was gay. He said he did not want to make an issue of his private life during the leadership contest, and hoped others did not do so either.

“I think if you are in politics you have to have a thick skin,” the Dublin West TD told RTÉ on Sunday. “I put posters of my face up on poles, I knock on people’s doors uninvited, so you do have to accept a certain degree of attention to your life that you wouldn’t have if you were a private citizen.

“My private life and my family life are not going to be an issue in this campaign or in any campaign I’m involved in and I really hope nobody else makes an issue of it either.”

Mr Coveney echoed these sentiments, and he said he agreed with Mr Varadkar.

“This should be a contest about vision and ambition for the country,” he told The Irish Times. “I’ve never made my personal life or family life an issue, and I don’t think anyone’s personal life should be an issue.”

Family photos

Mr Coveney said that while he may have had photographs taken with his family at events on rare occasions, he never sought to bring his family into the public spotlight.

Both men yesterday said they would await the official beginning of the contest, expected to happen when Mr Kenny returns from the US after St Patrick’s Day, before outlining their detailed leadership pitches.

Mr Coveney said he favoured an approach that would chime with the tradition of the Just Society document outlined by Declan Costello in 1965, which advocated social reform and social progress.

This would allow Fine Gael reach out to parts of the electorate who may not associate the party with policies that look after the vulnerable and the weak.

He said his record in the Department of Housing and the Department of Agriculture show he was capable of broadening the appeal of the party in such a manner.

Mr Varadkar has said Fine Gael is “for the Ireland that gets up early, the taxpayer, citizens who obey the law and are ambitious for themselves, their children and their communities”.

He has also said Fine Gael represents “people who don’t expect the Government to do everything for them, but who do expect the Government to help them or get out of the way”.

Yesterday, however, he said there would not be “enormous policy differences” between any leadership candidates, because they were all in the one party.

“The vacancy hasn’t yet arisen and I’m really looking forward to laying out my pitch but I don’t think today is the day to do that.

“What I am looking forward to is outlining how we, I believe, can turn Fine Gael into a fighting force again, one that 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 for the next phase of our development.”