Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has said he wants to lead a party for “people who get up early in the morning”.
Mr Varadkar officially launched his campaign to become leader of Fine Gael on Saturday morning supported by Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe and several key party figures.
- Fine Gael leadership tracker: Track the contest and check who your local TD, Senator, MEP and councillor is supporting.
The Minister told the crowd he wanted to make Fine Gael a fighting force again, a party that was unafraid to defend itself or its achievements.
A new social contract would have to be entered into with the Irish people, Mr Varadkar said.
The Minister outlined his preference for a contest to take place for the Fine Gael leadership among reports his rival Simon Coveney was due to stand aside.
Mr Varadkar said he wanted to sell his message to the councillors and members.
He declined to comment on criticisms from Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell, who alleged grassroot members of the party were being ignored by “choir boys” who are “singing for their supper”.
Mr Varadkar said: “Ultimately Fine Gael is a family. When all this contest is over, we will all sit down to Sunday dinner in the middle of the day.”
The Minister has received the support of 45 members of the parliamentary party including eight Cabinet ministers.
Asked whether he would retain Simon Coveney in his Cabinet, Mr Varadkar said he wanted the Minister for Housing to remain part of his team. However when asked if that support extended to Minister for Health Simon Harris, the Minister declined to offer the same reassurance.
He said: “I absolutely want Simon Coveney to be on my team. Simon Coveney is a candidate, nobody else is a candidate. I haven’t got to that point yet.
“I can understand why you are asking the question but you can equally ask the question of every other Minister or Minister of State.”
Mr Varadkar also suggested the Department of the Taoiseach would have a more senior role in the health service.
The Minister ruled out appointing a Minister for Brexit strongly refuting speculation he could appoint Enda Kenny to such a position.
Policy papers will be announced on Monday, the Fine Gael TD said, with his position on the economy, tax and debt to be outlined.
Mr Varadkar also insisted he would abide by the agreements reached with Fianna Fáil and Independent TDs ruling out an early general election.
On the issue of the eighth amendment, Mr Varadkar said he did not believe it should be retained in the Constitution as it stood.
He did not offer a personal opinion on whether it should be removed or altered but insisted his position would not be forced onto party members.