Simon Coveney: We are not done yet

It's not over yet - Housing Minister Simon Coveney has vowed to continue his campaign for the leadership of Fine Gael, writes Eoin English of the Irish Examiner.

Simon Coveney: We are not done yet

It's not over yet - Housing Minister Simon Coveney has vowed to continue his campaign for the leadership of Fine Gael, writes Eoin English of the Irish Examiner.

A defiant Mr Coveney told supporters at a rally in Cork city this evening that it is important for the party membership, and for the country, to see the leadership selection process that they agreed, out to the end.

"You will have your say," he said.

"This is an electorate of 21,000 people. It is not an electorate of 73.

"Sometimes in politics as in life, swimming against the tide makes you stronger, so that when the tide changes you can go in front."

Speaking on his way in, he said: "I am feeling good. This is the start of a process that I am looking forward to.

"I think we are going to make a very strong statement this evening that this process is just getting underway and the 21,000 people who will have a vote in two weeks time are going to get involved from now on. I am looking forward to facilitating that. No second thoughts I am afraid. That is not my style."

Addressing a room of 300 supporters later, he said the leadership process was important for Fine Gael as it reassesses itself and its values.

"For me, this is more about our country than it is about our party," he said.

It followed a day of intense speculation that he was considering withdrawing from the race after a raft of parliamentary party heavy weights backed his rival, Social Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.

Mr Varadkar officially launched his campaign earlier with the endorsement of Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

It brought to 45 the number of parliamentary party members - including Ministers Paschal Donohue, Richard Bruton, and Charlie Flanagan - backing Mr Varadkar, as opposed to 20 declared for Mr Coveney.

As Seanad leader, and Coveney supporter, Senator Jerry Buttimer, was on RTE Radio One at lunchtime insisting that it was still not too late for Mr Coveney's bid, the housing minister's team cancelled a planned a media event, scheduled for 2pm, at his constituency office in Carrigaline, south of Cork city.

It fuelled speculation that Mr Coveney was considering withdrawing from the race.

But he told his supporters this evening that it wasn't the first time the media had got it wrong about Fine Gael.

He said it is important not to cut the leadership selection process short and to not draw conclusions from early declarations.

Flanked by Minister Simon Harris, European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy, Seanad leader Jerry Buttimer, TDs David Stanton, Maria Bailey, Paudie Coffey, John O'Mahony, Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, TDs Kate O'Connell, Minister Damian English, and Senator Paul Coughlan, Mr Coveney said a lot of TDs who have declared for Mr Varadkar were in the middle ground and didn't want to get caught out.

"They say 'we want to be on the winning side'," he said.

"That is what we have seen in the last 48 hours. That is not a criticism of my (parliamentary) colleagues.

"Because people do have to make choices. Everyone of my colleagues are being followed to their cars by journalists, being put under pressure to say who they are going to declare for.

"Good luck to them and well done to Leo in the last couple of days.

"But this process for all of us, as party members and public representatives, still has a long way to travel.

"We need to be mature about that.

"We need to stick together through that process and we need to make an informed choice as to who is the best person to lead the party.

"Who shares the value system across this party."

"Who is the person who actually represents what this party needs to be about in 2017?"

"Who is the person who has the talent to keep a minority Government together? To keep a confidence and supply agreement in place with the old enemy.

"Who is the person who has proven themselves on the European stage to negotiate big deals and to find common ground where many people thought it wasn't possible?"

"When this process is over, and completed in full, if Leo Varadkar (does) win out, and he is chosen to lead this party, then fair play to him.

"I will shake his hand - I might even give him a hug.

"I will wish him well and I will work with him as I hope you will to ensure that this party is stronger at the end of this process not weaker. To ensure that this party is more united than ever at the end of this process rather than divided - because, believe me, if there is any other outcome to this process this party will not do itself justice in the context of the leadership process that is now underway.

"Let me be equally clear - we are not done just yet."

"This isn't just about the future of our party - this is about the future of our country."

"It is about creating a new vision for our party and our country."

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