Housing Minister Simon Coveney has been accused of being “panicked” and engaging in negative campaigning by supporters close to Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.
With the race to succeed Enda Kenny as Taoiseach now effectively on, tensions between the two camps have escalated in recent days.
But Mr Varadkar’s team have accused Mr Coveney of double standards by criticising negative campaigning while engaging in it himself.
“If you see what has been said in recent days, it is clear the Coveney team are panicking as they realise they have left it too late.
“Perhaps they are finding that a lot of people they were counting on are going the other way or are refusing to commit,” said one source close to Mr Varadkar.
Supporters of Mr Varadkar have complained that Mr Coveney’ supporters are engaged in a whispering campaign in order to undermine the Dublin West TD.
Some supporters yesterday pointed to material given to Sunday newspapers as evidence of such tactics.
“Just read it. This is like what happened a few months ago. They will seek to blame Leo for everything. There’s little can be done. There’s plenty to go negative with but we haven’t,” said one TD.
“I see they are at it again. The Tactic: Brief against Leo by saying Leo is briefing against Simon. What a piece of shit, It won’t work, makes Coveney look weak,” texted one senator.
For his part, speaking in Cork, Mr Coveney warned against the race becoming divisive and fractious.
“We have a new system now of electing a leader and it has never been tried or tested before.
“It will last 19 or 20 days which is much longer than we have had before. So obviously there are dangers of divisions — politics is a competitive process. It often involves pretty fractious relationships during leadership changes,” he said. “So we need to avoid that as best we can. For lots of reasons the timing is very important as we try to manage all of these things. One that is good for the country and two that is good for the party — that it is managed in a proper, professional manner.”
Mr Coveney said he is happy to debate Mr Varadkar in a TV debate.
“I think I have made the same comments as Leo has. Maybe he made it in a different way to me on the plinth of the Dáil. I have always said I welcome debate. I am not exactly shy of the media.
“I am on fairly regularly debating everyone and anyone. So I have no problem with that (TV debates) if it happens,” he said.
Addressing reports he is to launch his campaign in Cork in the coming days, he said: “I have read about that —that is not true. I will not be launching anything until there is a formal contest underway. I think that would be totally inappropriate.
“We have a Taoiseach, we have a party leader.
“He is a strong, effective and successful party leader and until he decides that there is a leadership process underway, I will not be launching any campaign.
“It would be untrue to say I haven’t been talking to colleagues obviously about preparing for that contest because we know that it is coming. I have been listening more than talking with a lot of my colleagues over recent weeks,” he added.
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