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Leo says he has faith his supporters won't secretly vote for Simon Coveney

Tomorrow the Fine Gael parliamentary party members will vote for their next leader.

FINE GAEL Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Updated at 7pm

“CONFIDENT. TAKING NOTHING for granted.”

Those were Leo Varadkar’s feelings about his chances on the eve of the Fine Gael leadership result.

He told Newstalk Drive this afternoon that he didn’t think it was likely that his parliamentary party supporters would secretly vote for his only rival for the position, Simon Coveney.

Anythings possible in politics, but I think it’s unlikely. I have faith in my colleague’s honesty, who have signed my nomination papers.

He said that if any of them do vote differently, “it will be small numbers and it can go the other way as well”.

When asked of the members of the parliamentary party who haven’t declared yet, had any of them told him privately that they would vote for him, he refused to answer.

But when asked ‘Do you believe that any of them will vote for you?’ he said “I do”.

Among the other topics discussed, the Minister for Social Protection said there was no need to hold an election or renegotiate a partnership for government with Fianna Fáil, as the current agreement was ‘between the two parties, not two individuals’.

He added that he would welcome US President Donald Trump to Ireland if he were to announce a visit, but that he would like to ‘extend and deepen’ Ireland’s relationship with the European Union.

‘Smart ass’

File Photo Voting begins today in the Fine Gael leadership contest Source: RollingNews.ie

“That’s Leo being smart assed,” said Housing Minister Simon Coveney this morning, reacting to comments made by his opponent in The Irish Times today.

When the newspaper asked Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar to comment on the differences between the two Fine Gael leadership candidate’s policies, he said: “I can’t answer that question, I haven’t seen his policies.”

Hitting back at Varadkar on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’ Rourke programme, Coveney said policy is at the centre of everything he does.

“I have proposed six or seven big ideas that I want to bring to the Taoiseach’s office.

“What Leo has done is effectively published an election manifesto – we already have that, it is called the programme of government, which we are committed to,” said Coveney.

He accused Varadkar of playing a tokenistic politics game making promises to different segments, something he had also pointed to in an interview with TheJournal.ie last week.

Making promises

I am not going to start promising doubling back to school allowance and a whole load of other things he has promised. I don’t think that is the way this campaign should be run, where you are ticking boxes for different constituencies.

Tomorrow the Fine Gael parliamentary party members will vote for their next leader, with members and councillors already voting earlier this week. The winner is expected to be announced shortly before 6pm tomorrow.

While Varadkar has been in a comfortable lead from day one, Coveney is still confident he can win tomorrow.

HUSTING SCENES 7R2A9039_90513095 (1) Source: Eamonn Farrell

“Nobody in the Oireachtas has voted yet. There was huge pressure on people to declare early… a lot of people have reflected on the failings of the first two days of the campaign.”

Over the past two weeks, Coveney has been actively trying to change the mind of some TDs and senators who have declared their support for Varadkar.

Numbers game 

Coveney says he needs about five or six to switch sides – if he can pull that off, he said he can probably win.

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“I think some people have reflected on their positions – that is the benefit of a secret ballot,” said the Cork TD, adding:

I think we are doing fine, there is still 24 hours to go.

There has been a lot written in the last week about how Varadkar is going to take the Fine Gael party to the right, while Coveney is keen to unite the country, and represent the people who don’t even vote for his party.

At one of the recent hustings over the weekend (which Coveney says independent analysis said he won), Varadkar said that if the party wants to represent everyone, they’ll end up representing nobody.

“I  totally disagree with that approach,” said Coveney.

The way society is now, there is “a need to stand for everybody”, he retorted.

“By targeting segments of society in order to get a vote dividend, by extension you are not prioritising other people,” he pointed out.

HUSTING SCENES 7R2A9044_90513092 Source: Eamonn Farrell

That ‘those who get up early in the morning’ line 

Coveney hit out at Varadkar’s recent lines that he is about representing those that get up early in the morning.

The Housing Minister said there is a need for his party to start looking out for some of the “people who can’t get up in the morning or aren’t motivated to get up in the morning, or come from a jobless household”.

“Fine Gael needs to be the party to ask why.

“I want to change the nature of politics through the Taoiseach’s office,” he said, adding that he is always up for a challenge.

“I didn’t ask for housing, water and local government reform for the fun of it – I did it for the good of the country,” said Coveney, stating that the Taoiseach gave him the choice of two ministerial portfolios.

I am determined regardless of where I am in politics.

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