Voting begins in Fine Gael leadership election

The two contenders faced off in a heated debate in Cork last night

Voting begins in Fine Gael leadership election

Fine Gael leadership candidates Simon Coveney (left) and Leo Varadkar (right), 26-05-2017. Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews

Voting opens in the Fine Gael leadership election today - after Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney faced off in a heated final head-to-head debate in Cork last night.

The two clashed on a range of issues - and they both attacked each other's plans for the party.

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar came out swinging, accusing his rival of having a broad vision without achieving results.

He was booed by sections of the crowd at points, and the Housing Minister Simon Coveney accused him of only planning to look after certain sections of society.

He said Minister Varadkar’s vision, “whereby we would focus on only traditional core support – maybe with a few add-ons in terms of broadening the appeal of the party” is very different to his own.

“Which is effectively building a just society for the 21st century; where everybody in this city and this country – urban or rural, rich or poor, council house or mansion – you all matter to us,” he said.

It was all smiles afterwards, but the increasing nerves are beginning to show on both sides.

Minister Varadkar said he would work to unite Fine Gael regardless of the outcome of the election.

“Fine Gael has enough enemies, there are enough people in other parties, there are enough commentators on the left in the newspapers from Vincent Browne to everyone on Twitter,” he said.

“There are enough people who want to misrepresent our party as being uncaring and not being interested in people across society – we have enough of that without us saying things about each other.”

The first of the 26 polling stations for Fine Gael members will open this evening, while others will be open on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Parliamentary party members will vote on Friday, with the winner set to be announced that afternoon.