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Dublin: 6 °C Friday 23 March, 2018

There were no punches pulled in the final Fine Gael leadership hustings last night

Voting for who will be the next leader of Fine Gael gets underway today.

Image: Sam Boal/

THE FINAL FINE Gael leadership hustings was held last night with a robust and heated debate between the two hopeful contenders.

Housing and Local Government Minister Simon Coveney and Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar squared off in the last of four debates, ahead of voting getting underway in the leadership election today.

The debate featured some heated exchanges between the two candidates, who squared off on what direction the leadership contest would take.

Coveney said it was his wish to lead a party that created a stronger and fairer society.

He said both candidates represented a “stark choice” to Fine Gael voters.

He said Varadkar’s vision for the party reflected a “shift to the right” where the focus was mainly on the core traditional Fine Gael base.

In contrast, Coveney said his vision for the party was:

Effectively building a just society for the 21st century where everybody in this city and this country – urban or rural, rich or poor, council house or mansion – you all matter to us.

Coveney said that people were looking for some “compassion” after the years of the recession.

Varadkar responded that he did not agree with what Coveney was trying to say about him and that compassion was one of his core values.

He said it was wrong for anyone to try to paint Fine Gael as uncaring and that enough people outside of the party tried to do that.

“In my view it’s divisive, it’s dishonest and it’s not a good way to seek a mandate,” he said.

Heated exchange

One of the most heated exchanges between the two took place nearer to the end of the debate, as Varadkar criticised what he said were attempts to create an ideological debate in the party which did not exist.

“Simon and I have been in the same party for 20 years, and been in the same government for six years and I don’t remember in all that time us having a big clash in ideologies,” he said.

He said he was putting forward a “programme of substance” for Fine Gael. Coveney said that Varadkar was “committing to spend money that we don’t have yet”.

“Not difficult to win votes on the back of that,” he said.

Coveney accused Varadkar of pledging to spend money on projects “all over the country”, whereas his own approach was to “plan first”.

Other questions

The lengthy debate featured a series of questions each man’s specific policies and objectives for the future of the party.

In response to a question about integrating communities, Varadkar said he was an example of how young people in Ireland from diverse backgrounds can aspire to become the leader of Ireland.

“My mum is from Waterford and my Dad is from India, that’s where I get the year round tan and the funny surname,” said Varadkar.

Other questions focused on climate policy, the arts, and Brexit among others.

Voting will kick off today in the Fine Gael leadership contest, with the result to be announced on Friday.

Under Fine Gael leadership contest rules, the percentage of votes are weighted by statues within the party.

TDs’ and senators’ votes are worth 65% overall, while councillors’ are worth 10% and regular party members make up the remaining 25%.

Varadkar secured an early commanding lead over Coveney in terms of parliamentary party members, by far the most important cohort of voters.

Read: Day Eleven: Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney gear up for final hustings debate

Read: Leadership battle gives Fine Gael a boost in the polls

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