Runaway Fine Gael leadership candidate Leo Varadkar has ruled out calling a snap election and will not give Enda Kenny an official Brexit role should he gain power, writes Fiachra O Cionnaith, Political Correspondent
The Social Protection Minister confirmed the plans in a detailed 15 minute press conference at the official launch of his leadership campaign in Dublin today.
Speaking at a carefully choreographed event at Dublin City Council’s offices after five more members of the parliamentary party - including Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald - backed him, bringing the gap with Simon Coveney to 45-20, Mr Varadkar outlined how he will respond to a series of issues facing the country.
He told reporters that despite strong suggestions a snap election will be called within months, he will continue to honour the confidence and supply deal with Fianna Fáil which is officially due to run until autumn 2018.
Mr Varadkar also rejected the idea of outgoing Taoiseach Mr Kenny becoming a Brexit minister or envoy for Ireland, saying that while he has done "phenomenal" work and that his advice will always be taken on board there is no need for such a position as Mr Varadkar has "attended a lot of meetings".
Asked whether a cabinet position will remain for Mr Coveney should Mr Varadkar become taoiseach, he said he "admires" Mr Coveney’s skills and patience and that his attributes will always be needed.
However, Mr Varadkar pointedly twice failed to give the same reassurance to Health Minister Simon Harris, the only senior cabinet member to date to back Mr Coveney’s campaign bid.
Mr Varadkar controversially claimed he and his colleagues did not force Mr Kenny out of office, insisting the "timing was of his choosing".
He also said the eighth amendment is too restrictive but repeatedly refused to clarify his views on the Citizens’ Assembly’s wide-ranging recommendations, and also dodged questions on garda commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan.
Asked if he will fire her if he enters office, Mr Varadkar would only say the Government has confidence in Ms O’Sullivan and failed to say if he will keep Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald - who backed Mr Varadkar today - in her role or remove her.
The official campaign launch was attended by a host of Fine Gael TDs and senators, including Ms Fitzgerald, Michael Ring, Catherine Byrne, senator Kieran O’Donnell and senator Joe O’Reilly.
The latter five all backed Mr Varadkar today, at a time when the parliamentary party gap is more than Mr Coveney’s support - an issue widely seen as the reason why a number of supporters are now backing him.
Mr Varadkar insisted he has not offered any supporters anything in return for their help when asked, and said he wants to see the contest last 16 days so that grassroots and council Fine Gael members have their say.
The latter issue has been a bone of contention among Mr Coveney’s supporters, with Dublin Bay South TD Kate O’Connell telling a Clare branch meeting on Friday night grassroots and council views are being ignored by "choir boys" who are "singing for their supper".
Housing Minister Simon Coveney has decided to defy calls to withdraw from the Fine Gael leadership race, writes Daniel McConnell of the Irish Examiner.
Several sources within the Coveney camp had indicated he was considering his options earlier in the day and he had pulled out of a press event this afternoon.
But his campaign spokeswoman Caitriona Fitzpatrick has insisted he is not pulling out of the race and tonight's planned rally will proceed.
Really looking forward to a big FG rally tonight in Cork City!!— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) May 20, 2017
The Coveney camp have hit out at earlier suggestions Mr Coveney was coming under pressure to withdraw.
Mr Coveney's decision to continue comes despite 45 members of the 73 member Fine Gael parliamentary party backing his main rival Leo Varadkar.