Coveney outlines policy objectives as leadership campaign kicks into gear

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has opened up a strong early lead in the campaign

Coveney outlines policy objectives as leadership campaign kicks into gear

File photo - Ministers Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar, 16-02-2017. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

Updated 12:15

The Housing Minister Simon Coveney has set out his policy objectives as he kicks off his campaign to become the next leader of Fine Gael.

Minister Coveney sparked speculation that he may pull out of the race yesterday – when he cancelled an event at his constituency office.

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has opened up a strong early lead – with the support of 45 out of the 73 members of the parliamentary party.

However Minister Coveney held a large campaign rally in Cork City last night – and both candidates have now had their nominations confirmed by the party

Addressing the rally, he warned his supporters that the party needed to emerge from the contest stronger rather than weaker but added, “let me be clear, we are not done yet.”

Speaking in Dublin today, the Cork South-Central TD said he would ditch plans to abolish the Universal Social Charge if elected Taoiseach - in favour of changes to tax bands.

His policy document calls for a gradual reduction in USC – while tax bands are raised to ensure less people are paying tax at the higher rate.

His plan also includes a call to establish an anti-corruption and transparency commission - which would have the powers of a high court judge and would investigate whistleblowing and alleged corruption .

The plan also includes developing 'green' cities, regional development, and developing a post-Brexit economy.

“Our goal should be nothing less than the creation of a society in which everyone can participate and an economy from which everyone can benefit,” he said as he launched the policy document.

He said he remained optimistic about Ireland’s future – but claimed he understands the “anger and frustration of many who feel that they have been left behind.”

“At a time of deep scepticism about politics in Ireland and elsewhere, I believe it is vital [for] every elected representative to declare what they stand for and to commit to the hard work of delivering positive change,” he said.

“Our political system has splintered into a range of new parties and alliances, some of which represents only a narrow section of our population.”

He called on the Fine Gael party to “reach out to all of our citizens” and seek to be a “party for everyone which seeks to unite rather than divide.” 

“What I bring to politics is positive thinking, big ideas and the capacity to get things done.”

In addition to his large lead among Parliamentary party members, Minister Varadkar also has the support of the vast majority of Cabinet after the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald confirmed she would be backing his campaign yesterday morning.

She was followed quickly by junior ministers Michael Ring and Catherine Byrne - however, the Dublin West TD has warned against complacency with the campaign only entering its fourth day.

Speaking yesterday, he said whatever the outcome of the leadership race; he does not expect an early general election:

“No I don’t think there should be an early election, I am not in favour of an early election,” he said. “I am committed to the confidence and supply arrangement that Fine Gael negotiated with Fianna Fáil and I am also committed to the program for government – the agreement that we have with independents.

“Provided that Fianna Fáil and the independents honour those agreements Fine Gael will honour them too.”

People who get up early in the morning

The Varadkar campaign is running with the motto 'courage to take us forward.'

He told supporters at his launch that he wanted Fine Gael to be the party for “people who get up early in the morning” adding that "politics has to be about making real things happen." 

While the Coveney campaign was launching its policy document, Minister Varadkar was taking part in the Streets of Dublin 5k run this morning.

However Minister Coveney was quick to defend his own fitness credentials.

The Varadkar campaign is set to release full policy details in the coming days.