Simon Coveney takes issue with Leo Varadkar's United Ireland tagline

Simon Coveney says he can win the fight to be the next Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach by just 2% if he can reverse just six votes for his rival and win the support of most members and councillors, writes Juno McEnroe of the Irish Examiner.

The Housing Minister also had a pop off his rival's plans for Fine Gael to tag a United Ireland to its name, by declaring he said this already this week and it had existed anyhow for decades.

The comments come as tensions between Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar rise up ahead of the first Fine Gael leadership debate being held in Dublin tomorrow night.

Mr Coveney said the more the campaign went on the more he thought the plans and vision of both competitors were different. He also still thinks he can win.

Speaking ahead of meeting party councillors in Wicklow, the housing minister told reporters: “In simple terms, if we maybe get 6 [parliamentary party] people changing their mind, who may have publicly declared to date but we will be voting in secret ballot next week, and if we can get a 60-40 split in the context of councillors and membership well then I believe we can win this thing by about 2%.

“That is an achievable target.”

He also took issue with Leo Varadkar's future plans for Fine Gael, launched separately in Dublin this morning.

The Social Protection Minister proposed that Fine Gael should bring back United Ireland as a tag line for the party and mark special events such as the foundation of the State.

Mr Coveney took issue with the plan, complaining that he himself made such a suggestion in Cavan this week. Furthermore, Fine Gael had used United Ireland with its name for decades, he insisted.

Earlier, Mr Coveney said he had no problem serving under Leo Varadkar, if the Social Protection Minister was made Taoiseach.

Speaking to the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk, Mr Coveney also said his policies and plans for Ireland were about uniting Ireland and not dividing communities, which he claimed would happen under his rival.

Singling out Mr Varadkar's comments that he wanted to help people who "get up early in the morning", Mr Coveney said he didn't want to create a “splintered community”.

Some people needed a generous hand up from the State “to help themselves,” advocated the Housing Minister.

He slammed Mr Varadkar's focus on the people who get up early in the morning, which has been interpreted as middle class workers, and said this was the kind of talk which had “divided” the country over the last decade.

Mr Coveney was meeting councillors in the Glenview Hotel, Co Wicklow, this morning, a key constituency where his supporter and fellow Cabinet minister Simon Harris is a TD.

The Housing Minister will later today prepare for the first head-to-head debate with his rival Leo Varadkar tomorrow in Dublin.

Details of the hustings are expected to be announced by Fine Gael HQ later.

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