Fine Gael leadership candidate Simon Coveney has appeared to correct a claim by Leo Varadkar about the party's position on a united Ireland.

Mr Coveney said Mr Varadkar has been talking about referring to Fine Gael as the united Ireland party but in fact it has been the united Ireland party for many decades.

The Minister for Housing is competing with the Minister for Social Protection for the leadership of the party following Enda Kenny’s decision to resign from that role.

Speaking in Co Wicklow this afternoon, Mr Coveney said Fine Gael is a nationalist party with aspirations to unite the country but not in the way some people would like, such as advocating for a border poll quickly.

Mr Coveney said Fine Gael under his leadership would be about uniting communities in Northern Ireland in a way that can allay peoples' fears whereby minorities do not feel threatened by what a change in territorial integrity will mean for them.

A spokesperson for Mr Varadkar said this afternoon that "the term 'united ireland party' fell out of use many years ago. Minister Varadkar is proposing to restore it to regular use by the party in response to members wishes".

Earlier, Mr Varadkar published his plans to reform Fine Gael.

His plans include a decision to hold a special conference to approve any new programme for government after a general election.

The conference will be made up of elected Fine Gael public representatives and also delegates from each constituency.

He has also stated in his policy document that he does not support an early general election but the party should be ready for one.

Mr Varadkar wants the party to hold selection conventions after the boundary commission report is completed.

He also said there should be an annual Ard Fheis and an annual policy conference.

The Dublin West TD also advocates clear targets for the 2019 local elections and overall, he said the party is too centralised and members and elected representatives have to have more of a say in the running of the party.

Senator hits out at 'classist' Varadkar

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane has said Mr Varadkar is "very classist in his nature."

Ms Ruane told the Seanad she is in "fear about what is coming in terms of our next taoiseach".

She said: "I worry and I don't make this claim lightly as I don't like attacking people personally, but I do have a fear we are moving into a time where we are going to be looking at a taoiseach who is very classist in his nature.

"I don't really want to have to stand here and say this today but it is the first time in my life that I have actually felt a little bit of fear about what is coming in terms of our next taoiseach."

She joked: "I was close to signing up for Fine Gael, just to vote against him and put a Number 1 beside Simon Coveney's name."

She added that "I hope I am wrong and I will remain open to see what Minister Varadkar does in his term of office, but I will say that I am very concerned and very disappointed in many of his comments throughout his campaign."