Fine Gael leadership contenders’ different slant on delivering message

As ever in politics, it’s not just the message you give, but how you give it, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

Over the past 48 hours, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney have both made clear their intentions to speed up Enda Kenny’s impending departure. However, while the message at the core of what they are saying — effectively “there’s your coat, when are you leaving?” — is the same, the way in which they have cloaked their words is in stark contrast to each other.

On Saturday evening, after days of publicly saying Mr Kenny should be given the space to decide what to do, Mr Varadkar released a statement calling for his leader to fall on the sword he delicately placed before him.

In a move akin to opening the door, yawning due to how late it is, and throwing a coat at a dawdling house party reveller who has over-stayed their welcome, the long-time front-runner to replace Mr Kenny told the Taoiseach to “settle” the matter. Now.

“Everyone is waiting to hear from the Taoiseach. I have full confidence in the Taoiseach to settle it,” said Mr Varadkar, seemingly just stopping short of: “Gee, is that really the time?”

The remark was blunt, but understandable. Mr Kenny has been in power for 15 years, Taoiseach for six, and a lame duck leader since last May.

For the good of the party, Mr Varadkar was making his message clear: It’s time to go.

For the card-carrying members of Team Leo, the message, and the ongoing threat of a no confidence motion if he does not get his way, was a necessary step shows he has the cut-throat character needed to lead.

However, among wider party figures determined to keep everything clean and above the belt, there is a strong view he may have miscalculated how Fine Gael likes to do heaves.

The morning after his chief competitor’s statement, Mr Coveney similarly gave Mr Kenny the tap on the shoulder. However, the tone was markedly different.

Stressing he will not back a no confidence motion regardless of what happens this week, Mr Coveney said he “trusts” Mr Kenny to make the right decision… which would be leaving after the White House St Patrick’s Day visit next month, he politely suggested.

Mr Coveney’s comment may look indecisive, long-fingering the inevitable, and off-putting to many impatient for change now.

But they may not have been its target, with the wide Fine Gael middle-ground uncomfortable with a heave no doubt noting the remarks with interest.

Brexit, tackling Fianna Fáil, and — dare we say it — keeping the recovery going will be key to the upcoming leadership race.

But, as Fine Gael knows all too well after last year’s bruising general election, tone is just as important as message — something both Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar will no doubt be focussing on in the days to come.


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