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Independent Alliance have 'very constructive and very satisfactory' meeting with Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar is into a week of meetings as he drums up support ahead of Tuesday’s vote to become the next Taoiseach.

Updated at 10.55pm

FINE GAEL LEADER Leo Varadkar and members of the Independent Alliance had a ’very constructive and very satisfactory’ meeting this evening.

A spokesperson for Varadkar – who won the Fine Gael leadership contest last week – said that the meeting had been positive and constructive.

They said that a wide-ranging discussion was held which lasted for an hour-and-a-half and “focused on how to make further progress on commitments in the Programme for a Partnership Government”.

“Particular issues discussed included legislation to prioritise, matters which will be fast tracked, and where free votes will apply,” the spokesperson said.

All matters discussed are already contained within the Programme for Government.

They said that Varadkar would now discuss the particular issues raised with the relevant ministers and meet again with the Independent Alliance before the weekend.

The Independent Alliance said the meeting was constructive and satisfactory.

The group said that they had stressed the need to accelerate various pieces of recent legislation as negotiated in the Programme for Government.

Among the issues discussed included Brexit, rural affairs and infrastructure.

Coveney 

Earlier, housing minister Simon Coveney said he would “hope and expect” health minister Simon Harris to remain at Cabinet following any reshuffle.

Coveney failed in his bid to be the next Taoiseach last Friday, with Varadkar winning the leadership contest by a 60:40 margin.

There has been much speculation over the weekend that TDs that supported Coveney would find themselves out in the cold, with questions being raised about the future of the Health Minister, Simon Harris.

However, Coveney told Cork 96FM’s Opinion Line programme today that he has made it clear to Varadkar that the careers of his supporters should not suffer.

When asked if he thought Harris’ career had been damaged for joining the Coveney camp, he replied:

I hope not. One of things I have made very clear to Leo is that we need to unify the party now and people who supported me shouldn’t in any way be damaged by that in terms of their careers.
Simon Harris is a very talented guy, very able communicator, he is only 30 years old – he has a huge contribution to make to politics. I would hope and expect that he will be part of Leo’s plan.

Coveney does carry some clout with the new leader and the party, with over 65% of Fine Gael party members voting for the housing minister to become the next party leader. Therefore, his opinion is not one that can be ignored.

Simon and Leo meeting 

Coveney said he met with Varadkar on Saturday and discussed the future make up of the government for over an hour and a half, according to the Cork TD, who said he had subsequently talked again with Varadkar over the phone.

While there has been talk that Coveney may be appointed Tánaiste, he would not be drawn on the issue today, stating that his conversations with the new Fine Gael leader must remain confidential.

However, he did state that he would be happy to remain on in the Housing Department if that is where he is most needed.

When asked if he would like to stay on in the brief,  he said:

Yeah absolutely, I haven’t finished that conversation [with Varadkar]. What I want to do is make sure I have the maximum impact I can in government. If that means staying in housing, I would be happy with that, if it’s another area that needs energy, and focus and good ideas, then I am happy with that too.
I will discuss that with Leo, hopefully that will be agreed in the next few days.

While Coveney admitted that he is disappointed with the result, he said he has always said he will work with Varadkar to unify the party.

leo varadkar Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar at the Mansion House on Friday. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

‘Not someone that mopes around’ 

“I am realist. I don’t like losing. I wanted to be Taoiseach and that didn’t work out. I am moving on, I am not someone who mopes around,” he said.

The Cork TD said he respects the decision of the party, adding that he is not the type of person who would go out to damage his opponent.

Since Friday’s result, Coveney said he has been encouraging those that supported him not to be bitter, but to be constructive towards the party.

Drumming up support

With the Dáil on a break this week, the new Fine Gael leader has a number of meetings planned to firm up his support before next Tuesday’s vote to make him the next Taoiseach of Ireland.

Varadkar’s is meeting with members of the Independent Alliance this evening was in order to ensure that he has their vote.

In a press conference recently, Transport Minister and Independent Alliance member, Shane Ross said they would not seek to renegotiate the programme for government, but said they would be looking for some aspects to be delivered sooner rather than later.

It’s understood Independent Alliance members expect to stay in their ministerial positions, as does Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone and Communications Minister Denis Naughten.

90418028_90418028 Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Communications Minister Denis Naughten. Source: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Where Varadkar may face difficulties are with the other Independents.

In order to be elected Taoiseach next week, he will need the backing of the Independents and the abstention of Fianna Fáil. In total, he will need the support of at least 58 TDs.

Last May, Enda Kenny was elected Taoiseach by 59 votes.

These included his Fine Gael party members, Independent Alliance TDs, Katherine Zappone and Denis Naughten, as well as rural Independent Clare TD Dr Michael Harty and Tipperary TD Michael Lowry.

Other independent TDs such as Maureen O’Sullivan, Noel Grealish, Michael Healy-Rae and Michael Fitzmaurice abstained.

Talks with Fitzmaurice faltered at the last hour during government formation talks last year. Today, he said he would not be supporting Varadkar as Taoiseach.

The Roscommon-Galway TD said a number of important issues that were agreed in the programme for government have not been delivered upon, adding that he would have taken the same decision had Simon Coveney won the contest.

The division between rural and urban is a matter of concern for another independent TD, Dr Michael Harty.

In May, he said he wanted to “put the government on notice” that he will withdraw his support for it if it doesn’t guarantee the future of the post office network.

The Clare TD reiterated his point on RTÉ’s Late Debate radio programme last week, where he said that the government had not followed through with its commitments on post offices as agreed with independent TDs. He is expected to meet with Varadkar tomorrow.

A vote to elect the next Taoiseach is expected to take place in the Dáil next Tuesday.

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