Bid to set out new policies for Fine Gael

Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar will this week significantly boost their campaigns and policy suggestions in the race to replace Enda Kenny as leader of Fine Gael.

Both contenders on the weekend flagged suggestions which they hope will offer an alternative to existing problems, as the race to win support in Fine Gael gains momentum.

More party figures have now emerged in both ministers’ teams as supporters, ahead of a expected announcement by Mr Kenny about the leadership of the party this Wednesday at a Fine Gael meeting in Leinster House.

Mr Coveney has suggested a new anti-corruption agency could be set up, which would also probe politicians and judges. Officials would be prosecuted if found guilty of corruption or misuse of power in office. Civil servants would also be answerable to the new agency.

The Housing Minister also says that a new Cabinet position should be established for infrastructure.

The new minister would be responsible for improving connectivity between cities such as Cork, Limerick, and Waterford, whose populations will double over the next two decades. Billions of euro could be drawn down from the European Investment Bank to advance major transport projects, he says.

The position would likely become available if the two economic portfolios are returned as one ministerial role in any Cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Varadkar, the Social Protection Minister, has outlined a plan to avoid costs and delays associated with a hard border being reinstated between the North and the Republic due to Brexit.

He told 120 Fine Gael councillors and members about the idea on Friday night.

Instead of a land border once Britain leaves the EU, customs checks could be strengthened around the island of Ireland in ports and airports, Mr Varadkar told the meeting in Donegal.

The North should also be allowed stay in the EU’s customs union, he said.

“We should advocate that the North should stay in the customs union and single market and that any customs checks should be in the ports and airports not on the land border,” said Mr Varadkar.

Meanwhile, a new poll puts Mr Coveney ahead of Mr Varadkar among Fine Gael supporters. The Behaviour and Attitudes poll gives Mr Coveney 33% as opposed to 28% for Mr Varadkar. However, the Dublin TD still leads with 25% from the public to be the next leader.

His supporters yesterday confirmed the support of Dublin-Rathdown TD Josepha Madigan and William Lavelle, a party councillor in Lucan, who formerly advised the justice minister.

Mr Coveney’s team insist he potentially has twice the level of support among senators and MEPs compared to Mr Varadkar. Mr Coveney would get between 14 and 16 Fine Gael senator votes as opposed to his competitor getting between seven and nine, say his team.

Senior Fine Gael sources yesterday also dismissed fresh concerns about Mr Kenny travelling on an Enterprise Ireland trip to the US in early June.

MEP Brian Hayes, writing in today’s Irish Examiner, warns of the need to avoid a campaign that would “poison” the Fine Gael-led government.

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