Simon Coveney: Two-horse race forced the party to reflect

A defeated Simon Coveney last night said his dogged determination to stay in the race to become Taoiseach forced his party to “look itself in the mirror” and address serious issues affecting the public.

The housing minister made the comment as he stressed he will back Taoiseach-in-waiting Leo Varadkar, he congratulated him on his success and said Fine Gael is “not in any way divided” after an “at times sparky” leadership race.

Speaking from the stage at the Mansion House in Dublin 6pm yesterday, as the formal election result was announced, Mr Coveney said the contest has been “a fantastic process and experience”.

He said the party and the country is “stronger” for the debates, and that ultimately this will benefit both Fine Gael and Ireland.

“This has been a fantastic process and experience for this party. The party has had an opportunity to look itself in the mirror, to ask what party we’re going to be.

“This party is stronger because of this process, it is not in any way divided,” he said.

Mr Coveney said the leadership contest has been “at times sparky” but was “dignified” and took part with “respect” between both candidates. He said he will support Mr Varadkar throughout his leadership, before personally turning to congratulate his rival and describing him as “a worthy winner”.

As he entered the Mansion House earlier, Mr Coveney was widely cheered by the Fine Gael crowd and told reporters he was “feeling pretty good”.

He later embraced Mr Varadkar after the election result, holding his hand aloft and applauding his rival’s victory, before stepping out of the way as photographs jostled to take pictures of the new Taoiseach and making a quiet exit with his family.

Mr Coveney’s campaign team director of elections, junior minister Damien English, told the Irish Examiner the housing minister received “a great result and a great vote”, and is “delighted he won the membership”, adding he “won the hearts and the soul of the members”.

Fellow campaign team member, backbench TD Maria Bailey, said she was “proud” to have supported Mr Coveney and that while his leadership bid started badly he fought back and gained the public’s respect.

“I’m immensely proud, immensely proud, and no matter how bad that Friday [the second day of the contest when Mr Varadkar risked winning by a whitewash] was, you never give up.

“You never tell your children it’s hard, that you give up; you fight for what you believe in.

“I absolutely wholeheartedly believe in Simon Coveney. He’s a great guy, humble and full of integrity, a decent person who will absolutely make a great leader, one day,” she said.

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