Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney clash at head-to-head hustings

Latest: Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar have clashed sharply during a lively debate during their first head-to-head hustings in Dublin this evening, writes Daniel McConnell and Elaine Loughlin.

    WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

    Leadership candidates Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar will take part in four regional hustings at the following venues:

  • Thursday, May 25: Red Cow Hotel, Dublin, 8pm
  • Friday, May 26: Barrow Centre, IT Carlow, 8pm
  • Saturday, May 27: Shearwater Hotel, Ballinasloe, Co Galway, 8pm
  • Sunday, May 28: Clayton Hotel Silver Springs, Cork, 8pm
  • The debates with be live-streamed on the Fine Gael Facebook page.

    About 21,000 rank-and-file members have a vote, along with 232 party councillors.

    Voting for the eligible party members will take place nationwide at 26 polling stations on Monday May 29, Tuesday May 30, Wednesday, May 31 and Thursday June 1.

    The parliamentary party will meet and vote in Dublin on Friday, June 2. All votes will be brought to a National Count Centre in Dublin on that Friday, where they will be will be verified and counted under the supervision of the National Returning Officer.

    Votes will be weighted in accordance with the Fine Gael electoral college rules, with the 73 members of the Parliamentary Party (PP) accounting for 65% of the total vote, almost 21,000 party members accounting for 25% and 235 local representatives (232 councillors and 3 Údarás na Gaeltachta members) accounting for the remaining 10% of the vote.

Update 10.01pm: Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar have clashed sharply during a lively debate during their first head-to-head hustings in Dublin this evening, writes Daniel McConnell and Elaine Loughlin.

As the candidates took harsh swipes at each other at the first of four regional hustings in Dublin last night, a new poll published minutes before the event began showed Mr Coveney is the public's favourite to succeed Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

Despite the wide belief that he cannot catch Mr Varadkar, Mr Coveney appeared bouyant and confident as he addressed more than 800 party members but admitted his campaign got off to a terrible start.

“I had a bad start for the first 48 hours to the campaign, there is no doubt about it,” Mr Coveney said but argued that the real campaign starts now with the four hustings which conclude on Sunday night in Cork.

But Mr Coveney did land the quip of the night after Mr Varadkar revealed he feels he has unfinished business in the department of health.

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney clash at head-to-head hustings

Mr Coveney sharply responded by saying: “If I have the privilege of being Taoiseach, I will remember that Leo has unfinished business in Health," he said to laughs and applause.

According to a poll conducted for the Irish Times by Ipsos MRBI showed that when asked for their preferred choice for leader of Fine Gael, 42% said Mr Coveney, while 37% opted for Mr Varadkar.

Over a fifth of voters (21%) said they didn’t know.

The poll also was able to identify the voting intentions of Fine Gael voters.

Among that group, 48% opted for Mr Coveney and 44% for Mr Varadkar, with 8% undecided.

Unsurprisingly, the poll showed Mr Coveney is preferred by less well-off voters, older voters, farmers and those resident in Connacht-Ulster and Munster, where 56% say he is their choice.

Mr Varadkar leads in Dublin (with 44% support) and in Leinster, and also among wealthier voters.

While certainly the poll result will give Mr Coveney a boost heading into the final weekend of the campaign, it remains unclear whether he will gather enough support outside of the parliamentary party to overtake Mr Varadkar.

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney clash at head-to-head hustings

The debate between the two aspirant leaders was largely respectful in tone, but there were a number of pointed criticisms of each other.

Mr Coveney took a swipe at Mr Varadkar for preparing for the campaign for the past 12 months, but the Social Protection Minister said it was not a bad thing to be prepared.

He clarified that he only began preparing in February but landed a sharp swipe back at Mr Coveney.

“If you can't be prepared in three months... we often get less notice of a General Election,” Mr Varadkar retorted.

Moderator Gavin Duffy said he didn't envy in the audience and Fine Gael members around the county as they are "blessed an burdened in equal measure" by being tasked with deciding between two high calibre candidates.

Both men clashed on their differing views on the future of Fine Gael.

In his opening address Mr Varadkar said that under his leadership Fine Gael "will stand for things and everyone will know what they are".

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney clash at head-to-head hustings

However, in a thinly veiled attack on his opponent, Mr Coveney said "of course we need to help people who get up in the morning" but went on to say that Fine Gael must also the vulnerable and those who need motivation.

"The party that I love is about make a a choice between two view points, I am deeply passionate about one and deeply concerned about the other.

"We have to represent the man in the sleeping bag on Grafton Street tonight, as well as the man creating 1,000 jobs."

The Housing Minister admitted being the clear underdog in the race: "I am not used to that position, and I'm not overly happy about it either," he said to loud applause.

"Underdog or not I intend on carrying a powerful message which is what I am about in politics, what you see is what you get."

Mr Varadkar said Mr Coveney's vision party is akin to “trying to being all things to all men, but really you end up being nothing to nobody”.

Update 9pm: Fine Gael leadership contender Simon Coveney says he and Leo Varadkar offer "different roads" for the party.

Addressing the first leadership 'husting' in Dublin tonight the housing minister says the contest starts now with the electorate of 21,000 members.

He told the gathering that they do have a choice to make between two different views.

"The role of Fine Gael in politics isn't about harvesting votes by being clever with who we target, it's about building a stronger society by ensuring that everybody can make a contribution and that is the kind of party that I want to lead," Mr Coveney said.

Leo Varadkar clarified what he meant by "people who get up early in the morning".

"When I talk about people who get up early in the morning... I mean lots of different types of people.... The coping class, the squeezed middle, middle Ireland... they should be our priority," he said.

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney clash at head-to-head hustings

Update 7.44pm: Voters in Fine Gael and the wider electorate favour Simon Coveney over Leo Varadkar in a new opinion poll.

The IPSOS/MRBI survey for the Irish Times has been released tonight as the first 'husting' for the party leadership gets underway.

Among all voters Simon Coveney leads Leo Varadkar 42% to 37%.

Among Fine Gael voters the lead is 48% to 44% - though the margin of error is higher because of the smaller sample.

Earlier:Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney will go head-to-head later this evening for the first of the Fine Gael leadership contest hustings.

The two contenders to become the next Taoiseach will take part in similar events over the next three days in Carlow, Galway and in Cork.

This evenings event gets underway at Dublin's Red Cow Hotel and will be streamed online by the party.

The Chair of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party and Fine Gael TD for Kildare South Martin Heydon outlines what is in store.

"The way the hustings works is it's different to a debate, it's defined in the dictionary as a meeting in which candidates in an election address potential voters.

"Each candidate will make their own 12 minute pitch and then thereafter, at about half eight, we'll have a situation where we go into the questions and answers open forum.

"Tonight, in the first meeting, Leo will open up and Simon will be the second speaker - at the end when we have the wrap-up they will be in that order as well. Tomorrow Simon will have the lead," he said.

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