Defiant supporters of Housing Minister Simon Coveney have insisted he can still pull it out of the fire as Fine Gael members start casting their votes today for a new leader.
Speaking at the party’s fourth and final hustings in Cork last night, one of Coveney’s key supporters, Health Minister Simon Harris, said the Coveney campaign had come a long way in a week.
“A lot of people were trying to declare the contest over this time last week,” he said. “But Simon has connected with members. And the message is: ‘it’s game on’. We will continue campaigning until 12 noon on Friday. We believe there is quite a way to go on this yet.”
And he dismissed questions about his own political future if Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar wins.
“I don’t believe either of the candidates running are vengeful,” he said. “This is an open contest — we have a vacancy that arises. In a democracy, and Fine Gael being a very democratic party, it is open to people to declare who they wish to vote for. You don’t do so in any way as a criticism of the other candidate. When this process is over, the party will very quickly unify behind the winner whoever that winner is.”
Fellow Coveney supporter, Seanad leader Jerry Buttimer, said Mr Coveney has, during the leadership campaign, demonstrated his vision and ability and has really connected with the party membership: “Yes, we are behind the curve heading into the final lap, but we are confident we can pull it out of the bag,” he said.
Mr Varadkar welcomed the results of recent polls which showed a bounce for Fine Gael but cautioned against reading too much into them.
“Two opinion polls have shown significant bounces in support for Fine Gael, with one showing a very strong move of younger voters, people aged under 35, from Fianna Fáil to Fine Gael which is interesting.
“It is very encouraging. Historically though bounces can be shortlived so it would be an unwise politician who would make any assumption about the bounce we get.”
West Cork Fine Gael TD Jim Daly, who is backing Mr Varadkar, also cautioned against the poll results.
“I think Leo is going to win but politics is the art of the unknown and that’s what keeps it fascinating for all of us,” he said.
“As a political party, the most important thing we need to get is votes... I believe Leo has the wider appeal.”
He dismissed criticism from some party members that he didn’t support the Cork minister.
“In a former life I chaired interviews for the education sector and never stopped at the postal address when I was trying to decide who was best to run an educational facility, so when you’re deciding on somebody to run the party and the country, I certainly will be looking beyond the address.”
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