Simon Coveney bullish on prospects

Fine Gael leadership contender Simon Coveney has insisted he can win the support of seven TDs and MEPs who have not declared — turning the election into a ‘knife-edge’ contest.

The housing minister made the comments as he said he could turn “half a dozen” of rival Leo Varadkar’s supporters at a grassroots meeting notably attended by still undeclared MEP, Mairead McGuinness.

Speaking to reporters at the latest grassroots Fine Gael meeting in Co Cavan last night, Mr Coveney remained in bullish mood, saying despite the obstacles facing him, he still believes an unlikely leadership win is possible.

Mr Coveney admitted that while he remains far behind Mr Varadkar in terms of public declarations of support by TDs, senators, and MEPs, he is convinced this will change when the head-to-head debates with his rival take place from Thursday to Sunday.

Mr Coveney said he will do “very well” out of the undeclared seven TDs and MEPs who have yet to decide who they will support.

They include Ms McGuinness, who Mr Coveney last night noted attended the Cavan meeting, and that “if I say anything nice about her, I’ll be accused of canvassing”.

Mr Coveney also said he believes supporters of Mr Varadkar “put under huge pressure” may turn, and that if “half a dozen” do so, the race will be “on a knife edge”.

He said this can begin with the four nights of debates with Mr Varadkar which begin tomorrow, and which he says he can win:

“Yes, I do,” he said when asked about winning the upcoming debates.

“[Agriculture Minister] Michael Creed isn’t the only person who has done that [remainss silent].

“There are a number of others as well and I think I will do pretty well among that group of TDs who have decided to keep their voting intentions to themselves,” he said, adding a debate win could help win retrieve “half a dozen” Varadkar supporters.

“I think I need to win back some of them but I’m not going to start naming names publicly and then start putting them under the spotlight of huge pressure, that wouldn’t be a very clever strategy from my point of view,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Coveney repeatedly declined to give his view on Mr Varadkar’s track record in a series of portfolios when in Government.

However, asked specifically about his rival’s suggestion that he will scrap the help to buy scheme championed just last autumn by the housing minister if elected, Mr Coveney agreed with a reporter the view is a “ball of smoke”.

“Yes, I would say so. There is already a review going on of that, just like there is a review of a whole range of things within the housing plan because it is so significant we want to make sure that is working and taking effect.

“I don’t think there was anything new in what Leo said, so I don’t quite know why he put it into the document.

“There is a review, as you’d expect,” he said.

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