Simon set for senior role with new leader Leo

Simon set for senior role with new leader Leo


Simon Coveney may have been unsuccessful in his big to lead Fine Gael, but that doesn't mean he won't soon occupy one of the top jobs in Government, writes David Linnane. 

MINISTER Simon Coveney has vowed to work "side by side" with new Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar, after losing the leadership race yesterday.

While Mr Coveney did not comment on his own future in the party, many people expect that he will be offered the deputy leader position and possibly the role of Tánaiste, due to his commanding lead with the general membership of the party.

Speaking after the count, Mr Coveney congratulated his rival.

"He is a worthy winner of this contest. He has the potential to be a hugely successful leader of this party, that can broaden our horizons to new successes that we haven't seen yet, and I will work with him, side by side in every way I can, to make sure that happens," he said.

Mr Coveney also thanked those who supported him in the race.

"I really want to thank everybody who has encouraged me and has been involved in my campaign over the last two weeks. It has been a great journey, and I've made some great friends in this parliamentary party and outside it during this period. I want to thank my family, who I've put under a little bit of strain in recent weeks. They've been extraordinary, as they always are."

Speaking after his victory, Mr Varadkar also thanked Mr Coveney and said that he looked forward to working with him. He also gave indications about some of his early plans if he is made Taoieach, including ruling out a general election, promising a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in 2018, giving continued backing to Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, and saying that he may leave Independent Ministers in their current positions.

Senator Tim Lombard said there was "shock" in Mr Coveney's team at the size of Mr Varadkar's lead in the parliamentary party, but that they were happy their approach to members had worked.

"There is some vindication because we got such a response from the membership. We got great support everywhere, especially in Cork."

He said the campaign had been "bruising, in some respects" but that it was important the party moved forward together.

Mr Lombard paid tribute to the parliamentary party in Cork who backed Mr Coveney, especially Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration and Cork East TD David Stanton and Minister of State for European Affairs and Cork North Central TD Dara Murphy, who he called "brave and loyal" for putting their own positions at risk to back the Cork candidate.

Mr Stanton said the count centre was "electric" yesterday, and that Fine Gael will grow on the strength of the leadership contest.

"It was really healthy for the party. We had a fantastic contest. But the ranks are closing now, and the two of them were on stage together, talking about unity," he said.

As one of the few Ministers to go against Mr Varadkar, some people feel that he may pay the price when the new leader is making appointments in the coming weeks, but said he will accept the leader's decision.

"We all serve at the behest of the party leader. Whatever position I'm asked to serve in, I'll serve in it. Whatever job I'm asked to do, I'll do it," he said.

Mr Murphy had similar feelings, but said Mr Varadkar's first priority would be to secure his own role as Taoiseach in the coming days.

He said Mr Varadkar had a lot of people behind him in the campaign who would be looking for jobs, but there are only so many to go around.

"Some people will be disappointed," he said, adding that he has always worked well with both Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney.

"It's going to be a matter for Leo. I'm not someone that gets concerned about these things."

On the suggestion that Mr Coveney might be made Tanaiste, Mr Murphy said the new leader had already complimented the work of current Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald, but added "he has been very clear that he wants Simon as part of his team".

Mr Murphy said the new leader would not have a problem with the party just because he didn't win the members, as the overall result was clear.

"I don't think he is going to have to reach out to people, because this was not a divisive campaign," he said.

Mr Stanton said that, while the members had less of a say in the vote, this was a system that they themselves voted for a number of years ago, giving the majority of the power to the parliamentary party.

Senator Jerry Buttimer, Mr Coveney's running mate at several elections, said that he was "disappointed" with the results, but wished Mr Varadkar well and said he had his full support.

He said that through his campaign Mr Coveney had "won the heart and mind and soul of the party". 

Mr Buttimer said regardless of how much of the party's support he won Mr Coveney would have to have a leadership role under the new leader, because of the skills he showed during the campaign.

"His campaign was superb. He has to be part of the Fine Gael vanguard in the future. He has a very strong future in Fine Gael," he said.

Outgoing Fine Gael leader, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny congratulated his successor but also paid tribute to Mr Coveney.

"I want to also thank and pay tribute to Simon Coveney for making the leadership election a real contest. This has been a wonderful exercise in democracy for the Fine Gael party. Fine Gael supporters all over the country really enjoyed the experience of participating in the election of a new leader, in a new way," he said.

Congratulating Mr Varadkar, Fianna Fáil leader and Cork South Central TD Micheál Martin said Fianna Fáil intends to honour its commitment to the government, but wants to see more progress on issues like education, housing, mental health funding, and infrastructure.

"We signed up to this agreement because we wanted to restore fairness and decency to Irish society with greater investment in services for people. We now need to see a major step change in the energy applied by Government to addressing these issues. The Irish people need to see delivery and a marked improvement in access to and quality of services.

"I look forward to meeting with the new Leader of Fine Gael to discuss these and other outstanding issues. I will be emphasising the need for renewed focus on executing and delivering the commitments in our three-year agreement," he said.

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