FG leadership: Coveney 'optimistic' of overturning early Varadkar lead, with 24 hours to go

FG leadership: Coveney 'optimistic' of overturning early Varadkar lead, with 24 hours to go

By Elaine Loughlin, Political Reporter

Simon Coveney has said he is "very optimistic" that he can still win the Fine Gael leadership race with just 24 hours to go.

The Housing Minister, who has been trailing since the beginning of the race, has appealed to grassroots members voting today and his parliamentary colleagues who will be balloted tomorrow to think about what is best for the party and the country before they cast a vote.

"I think we can still win - I am very optimistic about that," he said.

Speaking on RTE's Sean O'Rourke programme he said he has "made no secret" of the fact that he will need to change the minds of around five members of the parliamentary party in order to secure the leadership.

However, he said the majority of Fine Gael TDs, senators and MEPs had attended the four hustings, the first three of which he claimed he had won.

"I think some people have reflected on their position and that is the benefit of a secret ballot," he said.

The outcome of the contest is likely to be known before 6pm tomorrow, when the votes of the three electoral colleges - parliamentary party, councillors and ordinary members - are counted.

Mr Coveney said there were three phases in the 16-day campaign, with the first being the public declarations of TDs, Senators and MEPs.

"Everyone felt they needed to be out early and Leo got a bit of momentum," which he described as "frustrating".

"It then moved into a more substantial phase, we started talking to the membership, we were debating, the two candidates were tested.

"Now we are into the final phase and that is people voting across the country and the private conversations that need to take place in the party to make sure that we are doing the right thing."

Hitting out at his opponent he said the only reason Mr Varadkar attacked him on an apparent lack of policy during the final hustings, was because he was "taken aback" by the fact that Mr Coveney had preformed so well in the first three debates.

But Mr Coveney added: "People have strayed outside the boundaries a bit.

"Leo and I need to show some character and leadership at the end of this. For my part if Leo wins I will shake his hand, I will wish him well and I will work with him to make sure the party is stronger at the end of this and I hope he will do the same.

"Political contests are competitive and sometimes friendships are strained. I have been in Fine Gael for 20 years as a public representative, Leo has been in Fine Gael for quite some time as well so we all work together, we are on the same side essentially so that's why these contests are difficult for party members," he said.

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