A Government minister and prominent Enda Kenny supporter has backed Housing Minister Simon Coveney to become the next Taoiseach “if and when” a vacancy arises.

European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy revealed his support at the annual general meeting of the Cork North Central branch, attended by Mr Coveney last night.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Murphy said Mr Coveney should become Fine Gael’s next leader because his experience as an MEP from 2004 to 2007 will help in Brexit negotiations, his knowledge of the agriculture sector means he understands Ireland’s economic base, and his decision to take on the housing and water controversies shows he has leadership qualities.

Mr Murphy — who has previously suggested Mr Kenny will remain in power until summer 2018 — said he remains a loyal supporter of the Taoiseach.

However, he said should the Taoiseach resign in the near future, he will throw his weight behind Mr Coveney’s bid to outgun fellow leadership competitor Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.

“I remain completely a supporter of the Taoiseach,” he said. 

“However, if in the future a vacancy arises, I believe Simon’s performance in Europe and knowledge of the agriculture sector means he has the deepest skills of all the candidates.”

Mr Murphy’s public backing of Mr Coveney follows news late last month that Health Minister Simon Harris has attended meetings of the housing minister’s leadership campaign team, despite Mr Harris declining to say if he is backing him.

Independent polls suggest at this early stage Mr Varadkar remains ahead in all three electoral categories — grassroots, councillors, and TDs/senators.

Meanwhile, Mr Coveney has insisted he has no plans to launch a leadership bid before Mr Kenny steps down amid suggestions his attendance at the Cork North Central and East Cork agms last night was designed to shore up local support.

Supporters of Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar have claimed in recent days to be head in the unofficial leadership race, and have accused each other of “negative spinning”.

While numerous Fine Gael figures across all camps say it is widely accepted Mr Kenny will announce plans to step down in the coming weeks, no definitive timeline has been set.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan yesterday said he believes there will be a decision “over the next few weeks”, after Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the issue has been “dragging out for far too long”.


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