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Support Divided Locally For Fine Gael Leadership Candidates

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Support Divided Locally For Fine Gael Leadership Candidates thumbnailCllr John Clendennen with FG leadership candidate, Leo Varadkar, TD while Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy celebrated with candidate, Simon Coveney, TD at his policy launch in Dublin earlier this week

THE Fine Gael leadership contest has well and truly heated up since the race to fill the position vacated by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny kicked off and Housing Minister, Simon Coveney and Social Protection Minister, Leo Varadkar threw their hats into the ring last week.

  In Offaly, Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Cllr John Clendennen nailed their colours firmly to the mast last week by publicly declaring support for their preferred candidates. Firmly in Coveney's camp, Minister Corcoran Kennedy flanked the Housing Minister as he announced his leadership bid while Cllr John Clendennen made his sentiments known through a media statement that he would be supporting Leo Varadkar.

The Tribune also contacted Fine Gael councillors, Liam Quinn and Tommy McKeigue on the leadership issue but had no response from either at the time of going to press.

 As the hustings kick off this week, Mr Varadkar has had the early momentum with Mr Coveney clearly lagging behind in the leadership race.

However, Coveney hasn't thrown the towel yet, strongly rejecting suggestions of conceding to Varadkar. Instead, the Housing Minister has been busy, honing in on announcing carefully thought-out and well-crafted initiatives in what some are saying is a bid to build up a slow and steady groundswell of support over the two week campaign. And, there is, of course a long way to go yet.

Speaking to the Tribune about choosing to support Minister Coveney, the Minister of State for Health Promotion, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy admitted it was a 'very difficult' decision to make as she's friendly with both candidates and regarded 'both of them highly'. 'But at the end of the day, it comes down to who you think is the best person for the job, both for the party and the country and I chose Simon Coveney,' she said.

Giving the 'decision a lot of thought', Minister Corcoran Kennedy felt it was important to be 'open and honest' about her decision and is now encouraging both Fine Gael members and councillors to vote for Coveney.

Addressing fears that Coveney's supporters could be axed from their ministerial posts by Mr Varadkar if he becomes party leader, Minister Corcoran Kennedy was defiantly positive in her outlook. Noting that her chosen candidate, Mr Coveney gave a commitment he would promote people on 'talent and not loyalty', Minister Corcoran Kennedy pointed out that 'if Varadkar takes that approach too, I would hope he would take into account that I am in Offaly, the first (FG) Minister in Offaly, and he would ensure the people doing key jobs in Government are evenly distributed across the country and there was no gaps'.

The Junior Minister was not afraid to 'play the gender card' either, adding that 'we also need women in these positions'.

Back to discussing her support for Coveney, Minister Corcoran Kennedy continued what really impressed her about the Housing Minister was how he has 'dealt with this tide as he calls it himself' that has gone against him. 'How he has responded to this has absolutely copperfastened my view that he's definitely the best man for the job, responding the way he has to this negative start to his campaign. He has faced it head on and will see it through.' Concluding, Minister Corcoran Kennedy pointed out that Coveney has put a 'huge amount of work' into his 'visions, policies and ideas for Ireland'.

 Elsewhere, Kinnitty based councilor, John Clendennen highlighted the 'party's fortunate position with two strong and capable candidates' in both Ministers. But, he was confident that 'an Ireland with Leo at the helm is the right direction forward'. Elaborating on his decision to support Varadkar, Cllr Clendennen explained: 'As we emerge from the depths of an economic downturn, we need a leader that is pro-business and enterprise in order to ensure a strong economy that can deliver vital public services.'

  'We need to create an environment that makes work pay by reducing the marginal rate of tax and ensuring improved benefits for the self-employed, leading to further entrepreneurship and job creation across the urban and rural Ireland. This is essential to ensure the funding of a strong social economy and support the vulnerable and less privileged in our society. I believe Leo Varadkar is the right individual to make that happen.'

Outlining some of Minister Varadkar's career history, Cllr Clendennen said Varadkar took up his first Ministry at the Department of Tourism and Sport and during that period, he launched the 'Wild Atlantic Way Project', spearheaded 'The Gathering' Initiative, abolished the Travel Tax, introduced a new low VAT rate of 9% for the hospitality sector and re-introduced sports capital funding for clubs which many across Offaly have benefited from.

According to Cllr Clendennen, the Minister faced many challenges during his tenure as Minister for Health but he has 'vowed to take a special interest in the Department if elected leader'. He also pointed out that Minister Varadkar introduced Free GP care to all children under 6 years and seniors over 69 years during this time. At his current Department, Cllr Clendennen noted that Minster Varadkar, achieved some of 'his greatest accomplishments' including the introduction of Paternity Benefit while securing social welfare payment increases for a variety of recipients. 'It's an exciting time within the party and there really has been a burst of energy. Leadership contests are not something we see often and I think it is a great opportunity to engage with both membership to determine the next steps for the party,' concluded Cllr Clendennen.

  Meanwhile, party stalwart and former Laois/Offaly Fine Gael TD, Tom Enright confirmed to the Tribune that he would be voting for Leo Varadkar. Noting that both Ministers were 'excellent candidates', Mr Enright said Fine Gael was 'extremely lucky to have candidates of their calibre' contesting the party's leadership.

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