Coveney to kick off Fine Gael leadership campaign in Cork

Coveney to kick off Fine Gael leadership campaign in Cork

Minister Simon Coveney is expected to kick off his Fine Gael leadership campaign at two party meetings in Cork next Monday, writes David Linnane and Rob McNamara.

While An Taoiseach Enda Kenny is not expected to announce his resignation until next two days later at a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, formally triggering the leaders, sources within Fine Gael indicated that that Mr Coveney will use two party annual general meetings to rally local members in advance of the campaign.

He will speak both the Cork North Central Fine Gael AGM in the Vienna Woods and the Cork East Fine Gael AGM in the Corrin Events Centre at the Cork Marts complex in Fermoy. With the general membership of Fine Gael making up 25% of the overall vote for leader, Mr Coveney will need his base Cork to deliver while he builds on that base in the rest of the country, particularly the midlands and the north-west.

Cork North Central has 663 members, according to 2016 figures, while Cork East has 558.

There are more than 3,000 Fine Gael members across the five Cork constituencies, compared to just over 2,000 in his rival Minister Leo Varadkar's home city of Dublin.

Cork also has a good base of councillors, who make up 15% of the vote, with 22 between the two local authorities, although Dublin has 31, meaning that the councillors outside of Munster and Leinster will make a big difference.

Due to the tight split in the parliamentary party, the votes of party members and councillors will be crucial to deciding who will succeed Enda Kenny after 15 years.

Mr Coveney's campaign has received a boost behind the scenes in recent days with Minister for Health Simon Harris signing up to support him.

While the formal campaign has yet to begin, Mr Coveney has been meeting with councillors in recent days and has been holding strategy meetings with key allies in Fine Gael, including Cork Senator Tim Lombard and Cork city councillor Laura McGonigle.

One of the four debates between the two candidates will be held in Cork City once the leadership battle formally begins.

Cork East Fine Gael TD and Minister of State David Stanton said that, while there is still no vacancy, he wants to see a good debate in the party when there is.

"It is important that, when and if this does happen, that there would be a contest and that people would be challenged to put forward their vision for the country first and the part second," he said.

"Also to put forward their ideas and be challenged on that by the membership and by the public to see what they bring to the table. I don't believe in coronations...we need a contest and that's why the two people that are reported to be front-runners both need to bring their talents to it," he said.

This article first appeared in the Evening Echo.

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