Simon Coveney is back to home turf to rally supporters

Housing Minister Simon Coveney will stage a major rally in Cork tonight with his supporters insisting it’s still all to play for in the Fine Gael leadership race.

Mr Coveney will be on home turf in a bid to shore up local support and gain ground on Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.

Mr Coveney’s city-centre rally comes after Mr Varadkar’s leadership bid was further boosted yesterday with endorsements from ministers Paschal Donohoe and Charlie Flanagan.

However, two high-profile Coveney supporters, European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy and Seanad leader Jerry Buttimer, insisted it’s still too early to call.

Mr Murphy said he is not concerned about the early endorsements for Mr Varadkar and emphasised that nobody has a “decisive edge” on what is day three of the campaign.

“I know a large number of Cabinet ministers have not declared yet,” he said.

“We have a big parliamentary party. We have a large number of councillors and the largest membership of any political party in the country.”

Mr Murphy dismissed analysis suggesting Mr Varadkar can’t be caught, saying the only poll that matters is the vote of eligible party members, the result of which will be announced on June 2.

“Some people have declared, certainly, but a lot of people have held their counsel,” said Mr Murphy.

“Of course our electoral system allows our 20,000 members and our hundreds of councillors to also have the opportunity to contribute to this. There is plenty left in this campaign for sure.”

Mr Buttimer said there was little surprise by the early declarations of support for Mr Varadkar. “I always felt it would be a very close race between two hugely talented politicians who are two excellent candidates.

“I still believe it is too close to call and that everything is there to be campaigned for.”

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