A defiant Simon Coveney is to make a major drive to convince party colleagues to switch their support from Leo Varadkar to him.
Mr Coveney has revealed that ministers and TDs had pledged their support to him but changed their mind based on backing a winner as the Varadkar campaign gained momentum.
The housing minister, who unveiled his policy document in Dublin yesterday, is convinced that his proposals, coupled with his performance at the upcoming hustings, can win a number of his Cabinet colleagues back and will earn support among councillors and grassroots members.
It comes just 24 hours after Mr Coveney’s campaign was plunged into crisis forcing his team to hold an emergency meeting in Cork after support for his rival swelled past 40 Oireachtas members.
However, yesterday a determined Mr Coveney declared the race is still winnable: “No Oireachtas colleague has voted yet, they have simply made declarations. We haven’t conceded anything.”
Speaking before taking part in a 5k run in Dublin’s Docklands, Mr Varadkar said he was happy his opponent had decided to remain on in the race.
“I am very keen that the contest should continue and I am pleased that Simon Coveney has decided to stay in the contest because it’s absolutely important that we take this debate and this opportunity to reinvigorate Fine Gael to the councillors and the members across the country,” the social protection minister said.
Mr Varadkar has already gained the support of 45 Fine Gael TDs, senators and MEPs, while Mr Coveney has the public backing of 20.
But Mr Coveney is now intent on changing minds and hopes to use pressure from the 20,000 ordinary members and 232 councillors to convince those in Leinster House to back him.
“What happens in a leadership contest is that you have core people who are very supportive of individual candidates, for me it’s about 20 people, and then you have a large group of people who are looking to see which way the tide is flowing to make sure they are one side, and I don’t blame them for that; that’s politics, that’s survival,” he said.
Asked whether it was fair that Mr Varadkar’s Oireachtas supporters had made public declarations before a single piece of policy had been published he said: “I am not going to start talking about what’s fair and what’s not, politics is a pretty raw business, it’s a tough business, you need to have thick skin to survive in it and that’s the truth.”
He added: “Let’s see how the hustings take effect and [the] impact that that has within the parliamentary party. It wouldn’t be the first time people changed their minds when they hear real arguments and real substance behind those arguments.”
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, members of Mr Coveney’s team said they are engaged in a major effort to bridge the large gap that exists between the two men.
Surprise has been expressed by some in the Coveney camp as to why Mr Varadkar has refused to appear on at least two RTÉ programmes — Prime Time and This Week — when asked.
The sources have suggested that unlike Mr Coveney who appeared on both, Mr Varadkar is either unwilling or unable to discuss his policies in major media interviews.
“Simon has now conducted two major one-on- one interviews on policy compared with Leo’s none. This has to be more than style, this is about electing a Taoiseach,” a source told the Irish Examiner.
Mr Coveney yesterday set out his plans in his ‘Positive Strong Leadership’ which includes the establishment of an anti-corruption and transparency commission to respond to whistleblowers.
He has also vowed to tackle the urban/rural divide through investment in regional cities and towns; would make his Government the greenest administration in the history of the State; and would focus on building a competitive economy post-Brexit.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar is due to publish a policy document today which includes a pledge to double the Government budget for arts, culture and sport over seven years.
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