Simon Coveney is “concerned” for the political careers of those who have supported him as Leo Varadkar maintains a significant lead in the Fine Gael leadership race.

Launching his campaign policy document, the Housing Minister was asked if he is worried he may not retain a cabinet position after the contest if Mr Varadkar succeeds as the next taoiseach.

However, Mr Coveney instead turned the question to those TDs and senators who have publicly endorsed him, saying: “If I am honest, I am actually more concerned about the people who are committing to me in terms of supporting me.

“I am conscious that when people make a decision to back one candidate over another, not only are they making a decision to support that person but they are also making a calculated risk for their own careers, that is the history of political contests.”

Mr Coveney has so far gained the support of 20 Fine Gael TDs, Senators and MEPs, while Mr Varadkar has 45.

But yesterday he said a number of other TDs and ministers had committed to supporting him only to turn to Mr Varadkar when momentum began slipping towards him.

Mr Coveney said he would now focus on gaining this support back as well as securing the votes of councillors and ordinary members.

Health Minister Simon Harris, who is backing the Cork South Central TD said Mr Coveney’s concern for his fellow Fine Gael colleagues is a trait he admires in him.

Mr Harris said: “I make my decisions in politics based on conviction, not based on political expediency. I’ve decided to support Simon Coveney. I’ve been very clear and upfront about that from a very early stage.

“But it’s far too early and far to presumptuous to be talking about Cabinet formation. Just for the record, I love the job that I’m doing in the Department of Health. I’m working as hard as I possible can at it. I’d like to continue that work but these are questions for another day,” he said.

It had been reported that there were last-minute moves to try to enter Mr Harris’ name into the race an hour before the deadline for nominations, but this was yesterday brushed off by Mr Harris who, when asked if it could have been dirty-tricks on the part of the Varakdar side, said he had “no intention” of guessing where the rumours started.

“The theme of this campaign is positive, strong leadership. Simon wants to keep it positive, so do I and I’ve no intention of guessing.

“I didn’t wait to see which way this race was going, which way the tide was going, where the momentum was. I made my decision based on knowing Simon Coveney and his track record. I’m very happy with my decision.”

Meanwhile Dublin-Bay South TD Kate O’Connell defended jibes directed at Mr Varadkar’s supporters during a campaign rally for Mr Coveney in Co Clare.

Ms O’Connell claimed Mr Varadkar supporters are “choirboys” who are “singing for their suppers”. She said “it must have hit a nerve if a six minutes speech at an AGM in Clare caused such a furore”.

“It was ‘heat of the campaign’. That’s what campaigns are about and I meant every bit of what I said.

“We’re all fired up now and I’m looking forward to a positive campaign.”

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