FG leadership race heating up as Coveney warns TDs against 'threats' to Taoiseach
The Fine Gael leadership race has taken a fresh twist after Housing Minister Simon Cove-ney warned TDs against issuing "threats" and "ultimatums" to under-pressure Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
In a clear swipe at his rival, Leo Varadkar, Mr Coveney said Mr Kenny must be "trusted" to step aside on his own terms.
"I think the emphasis has been a little bit different from Leo and me. I think he wants to push things, he wants clarity from the Taoiseach on timelines," Mr Coveney told RTE's The Week in Politics.
"I've said very clearly that I don't think people in the party should be coming out and putting down ultimatums and making threats of motions of no-confidence and demanding immediate statements from the Taoiseach," he added.
Despite the warning, Mr Coveney then appeared to issue his own ultimatum to Mr Kenny, saying he expects the leadership issue to be tackled after the visit to the White House for St Patrick's Day.
"My view is that the Taoiseach should go to Washington for St Patrick's Day, but I expect the leadership within Fine Gael - but ultimately the leadership in the country, the issues around that - will be dealt with very quickly after that," he said.
A spokesman for Mr Varadkar later told the Herald that he agreed with the timeline laid out by Mr Coveney.
However, sources in the Varadkar camp took a swipe at Mr Coveney, saying he had acted in a bid to "claw back lost ground" in the leadership race.
Fine Gael has been in turmoil amid growing fears that the leadership issue could force an early general election.
Yesterday's Sunday Indep- endent/Kantar Millward Brown opinion poll shows Fine Gael trailing its main rival Fianna Fail by eight points.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Mr Kenny said he will address the leadership issue this week.
"The Taoiseach will address the parliamentary party on Wednesday and won't be making any comment on the issue of leadership before then," he said.
In a further development, it has emerged that Jobs Minister Richard Bruton will tonight be asked by supporters to state whether he intends to run for the leadership.
Mr Bruton, who led an unsuccessful heave against Mr Kenny in 2010, is due to address his branch's AGM in Dublin Bay North.
Health Minister Simon Harris is also weighing up his options. However, he was dragged into a bizarre scenario on the internal Fine Gael WhatsApp group yesterday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan posted in the group - made up of dozens of TDs and senators - that Mr Harris "wants out of Health" and is being encouraged by Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald to run for the leadership.
However, he told the Herald that the remarks were a "gag" and "tongue in cheek".
The full post by Mr Flanagan reads: "Thanks. He hasn't announced yet but Frances is encouraging him. He wants out of Health."
He later responded with the message: "Clarity for leakers and fake newshounds. Earlier tongue in cheek re Simon & Frances just that!"
Mr Harris responded: "Thanks for clarifying Charlie! Working as hard as I possibly can in my job and not engaging in speculation. Lots to do."