Simon Coveney camp insists he is ahead in leadership race

Housing Minister Simon Coveney holds a 14 to nine lead in terms of support from Fine Gael senators and MEPs in the race to succeed Enda Kenny, it was claimed yesterday.

Mr Coveney and his supporters have strongly rejected figures reported in recent days which suggested his rival Leo Varadkar enjoys the support of ten more Fine Gael TDs, senators, and MEPs with about half of the 73 eligible voters declared.

With both camps expected to formally launch their campaigns next Thursday in Dublin, the two men are claiming bragging rights as to who will win the parliamentary party contest.

However, Mr Coveney’s camp is claiming their man has the edge in the parliamentary party and said his vote among councillors is “stronger than expected”.

“We think that when you break up the blocks of the parliamentary party, Simon is five ahead in terms of the MEPs and senators. We think he is also ahead in terms of TDs but even if you say they are level, we are still ahead, which is important,” a source close to Mr Coveney told the Irish Examiner.

Mr Varadkar’s supporters insist the social protection minister is on course to win all three separate races in the electoral college.

Under party rules, the parliamentary party accounts for 65% of the total vote, the vote of councillors will make up 10%, while the ordinary membership of the party will make up the other 25%.

Mr Coveney’s supporters have strongly denied suggestions he and his backers are “panicked” by suggestions they are way behind, insisting they are deliberately holding fire until Mr Kenny announces his intention to resign. “We are not panicked at all. We are quietly happy as to where the numbers are and how they are firming up,” one campaign source said.

They have also rejected suggestions that a Varadkar win will necessarily result in more seats for Fine Gael at the next general election.

“Fine Gael lost 26 seats last time out, only three in Dublin. If Fine Gael are to row their seat numbers again the obvious growth area is outside Dublin — where Simon Coveney is comparatively stronger... The arguments about ‘Dublin cockpit’ and ‘reaching new voters’ are appealing at a superficial level but don’t bear up to much scrutiny,” the source added.

On Wednesday night, Mr Kenny stood before his party colleagues at Leinster House and confirmed he will address the issue next week.

In a jibe to the effusive nature of his party and its capacity to leak with lightning pace, he said: “I hope the texters get this right...”

With everyone on edge at this stage, he lowered his voice and said: “I will address this parliamentary party meeting next week with respect to the Fine Gael leadership.”

Mr Kenny told those present that he would deal with the speculation “fully next week”.

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