Varadkar on course for victory in Fine Gael leadership contest
Defiant Simon Coveney vows to fight despite rival’s near-unassailable lead
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar with Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe on Leo Street in Dublin on Friday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Leo Varadkar is on course to become the next leader of Fine Gael and taoiseach after several Ministers and TDs declared their support for him yesterday, leaving him with a near-unassailable lead over his rival Simon Coveney.
Mr Coveney told The Irish Times last night that he would not be withdrawing from the contest, though some of his supporters privately believe he should consider pulling out.
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Mr Coveney said: “The conversation about the future of our party and the Government has barely started. Not a single vote has been cast, let alone counted. I started this process and I intend to finish it and, in particular, give party members their say.”
But further high-profile declarations of support are expected for Mr Varadkar today when he officially launches his campaign in Dublin.
Mr Coveney’s camp was deflated yesterday when a series of Ministers and TDs, including some whose support they were expecting, declared for Mr Varadkar. Sources in Mr Coveney’s team acknowledge it is difficult to see a path to victory for him.
“If there is a gap in the numbers that is too big to fill, we will have to assess if a contest is necessary. It might be at that point already,” one prominent supporter said.
Mr Varadkar’s establishment of a large lead in the first 48 hours of the campaign persuaded many wavering TDs to throw their support behind him.
He told The Irish Times that he believed he was “in a good position to widen the support and widen the appeal of Fine Gael and to hold on to the vote that we have, which is of crucial importance, but also to begin a conversation with people who lost faith in us or never even considered voting for us.
“I think a change of leader and a change of generation in Fine Gael will mean that people will listen to us for a while and we need to grab that opportunity. Ireland is a very young country – I mean, the average age in the country is 38, which is what I am,” he said.
“They’re actually pushing back against some of the forces that want to close the world down again,” he said.
He said Mr Macron and Mr Trudeau were “standing up for free trade, standing up for Europe, standing up for multilateralism, saying that, on balance, if it’s managed, migration is a good thing. Instead of pandering to populist or extremist views on the right or left, they’ve done the opposite .”
Mr Varadkar, who came out as a gay man during the marriage equality referendum two years ago, said he isn’t aware any “behind-the-scenes whispering” about his personal life.
“I hope not. People know about my personal life, it’s not a secret anymore. I don’t think it’s particularly relevant. I obviously have a family I’m very close to and a partner of almost two years now. I don’t like my job, my politics, to intrude on their lives,” he said.