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simon says

The man who would be king - is Simon Coveney on a well-worn path to Taoiseach?

Following in his father’s footsteps and rising through the ranks, Simon Coveney could follow Enda Kenny’s path to Taoiseach.

HE WAS ELECTED to Dáil Éireann following the death of his father, a long-serving TD popular in his local constituency.

Thrust onto the party political stage aged in his mid-20s, he remained on the backbenches for quite a few years before becoming one of Fine Gael’s mainstays, one of the people most recognisable from the party.

Now, two decades on, he is one vote away from becoming the leader of the country.

And no, we’re not talking about Enda Kenny about to take the reins as Taoiseach in 2011, although the parallels are uncanny.

On the cusp of the top job, Simon Coveney will be trodding on a well-worn path if he is elected the leader of Fine Gael and becomes the new Taoiseach.

Starting in politics following the death of his father in 1998, Coveney only has Leo Varadkar in the way if he is to become the next leader.

This morning, flanked by his supporters, he launched his campaign with the promise of uniting the country behind Fine Gael.

What’s more, if selected, he will become Ireland’s youngest ever Taoiseach, taking the post around nine months younger than Bertie Ahern was when he took the top job aged 45 in 1997.

In the family

Simon Coveney was born in Cork on 16 June 1972. The Coveneys were one of the well-known “Merchant Prince” families, a term used for an affluent group of Corkonians.

His father, Hugh, served as a Fine Gael TD for Cork South-Central for six years in the 1980s, and then for a further four in the 90s before his death in 1998.

Coveney attended school in Cork before enrolling at Clongowes Wood College, a boarding school in Kildare, in his teens. These days, the private school comes at a cost of €18,650 per year.

It would perhaps be surprising when considering the straight-faced politician he appears now, but Coveney was actually expelled from the school during transition year.

He told Hot Press in a 2015 interview: “When I was in fourth year, I did go through a phase of deliberately breaking the rules: I wouldn’t be alone in that.

It was a boarding school so I basically ran away a couple of times – and ended up getting asked to leave… I was asked back again though so ‘expelled’ sounds like a strong word.

Back on the straight and narrow, Coveney went to university and achieved a BSc in Agriculture and Land Management.


His older brother Patrick has enjoyed considerable success in the private sector, working as the CEO of food company Greencore.

It had originally been presumed that Patrick would follow in his father’s footsteps, but it was Simon, who had just embarked on a round-the-world trip on a yacht for charity, who came home to begin his political journey.

Making an impression

When Hugh Coveney died unexpectedly in 1998, the 26-year-old Simon was thrust into the spotlight at a young age, winning a subsequent by-election.

In the Dáil, veteran Fine Gael politician Maurice Manning paid this tribute to the deceased TD: “We were fortunate to have had Hugh Coveney in politics as he gave it a good name.

He did so because of the person he was. His integrity shone through everything he did and said. Hugh Coveney’s word was his bond, a promise given was a promise kept, a confidence given was a confidence respected.

In political circles, similar sentiments are expressed about his son Simon today.

Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork city, Joe Kavanagh, told that Coveney always delivers when he says he will.

“He has certainly made an impression,” he said. “He’s very passionate about his local community. If there’s a local issue to be dealt with, he’s there.”

A staunch supporter of then-leader John Bruton in his first few years, Coveney was a backbencher who managed to keep his seat as Fine Gael went into meltdown in the 2002 general election, losing 23 of its seats.

00067922_67922 Eamonn Farrell / Eamonn Farrell / /

A brief stint as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) aside, Coveney steadily rose within Fine Gael ranks in the Dáil occupying the position of spokesperson on communications and transport during the 2000s.

Officially, Coveney sided with Richard Bruton in the famed heave against Enda Kenny in 2010 but there were strong suspicions that he acted as a “double-agent” during the affair.

Our oral history of the event delved into the behind-the-scenes goings on at Fine Gael at the time:

John Drennan: “I think it was Simon Coveney who sort of half leaked it (details of a not-so-secret Green Isle meeting) accidentally. There was a view that Simon was on both sides of the fence.”
Deaglán de Breádún: “I heard that rumour but I was never able to verify it. If there was double agent, which there clearly appears to have been, it shows how formidable Hogan and Kenny were and how incompetent the others were.”
John Drennan: “Simon Coveney was all over the shop. He put himself forward as the compromise candidate in the middle of it all and I mean there was strong suspicion on all sides that he was the mole.”

He retained his place on the frontbench in a subsequent reshuffle, as did some of the other rebels such as Leo Varadkar and Charlie Flanagan.

Following Fine Gael’s strong performance in the 2011 general election, Coveney was chosen to take on the brief as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Central role

Coveney brought his background in agriculture, dating from his university days, to bear as Minister for Agriculture.

90261972_90261972 Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Kavanagh said that there was an impression among people in Cork that he had delivered on each ministerial role he held:

Whatever he gets his hands on, he throws himself into it. He gets his hands dirty. He has a local appeal, but he gets up and down the country. He did a great job in agriculture and defence.

Away from his brief, Coveney was seen as a central figure in a number of referendums, including the same-sex marriage referendum.

Usual supporters of Fine Gael weren’t the only ones impressed with Coveney as spoke passionately on a number of occasions in favour of a yes vote.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live with a week to go before the polls, he gave a clear indication of what people were actually voting on:

What we’re actually asking people to decide on here is, ‘Do we allow two same-sex people who love each other, who want to commit the rest of their lives together, do we allow them access marriage?’

Later, he also held the position as Minister for Defence alongside the agriculture brief, before the 2016 general election.

In the wake of the uncertain results that were offered by the electorate last year, Coveney was heavily involved in negotiations with Fianna Fáil and independents before the minority government was established.

Since the formation of the government in May 2016, he has held the challenging role of Minister for Housing at a time when issues around homelessness dominate the national agenda.

It was pinpointed as a key challenge for this government to tackle, and Coveney was under no illusion about the task faced.

“I see housing as a challenge for this government, so I wanted to test myself and see if I could take it on,” he told

Since becoming minister, he has overseen ambitious plans to alleviate the housing crisis but the number of people homeless has actually increased during his tenure.

In Budget 2017, the government committed to spending €98 million to tackle homelessness, up from €70 million in 2016.

As the number of homeless people continues to increase, however, the government has a hard task to try to stem the tide.

Focus Ireland director of advocacy Mike Allen told that the government was lacking a targeted strategy to get families out of homelessness long-term.

Simon says

Minister Simon Coveney TD Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

Seen as a proven vote-getter rather than possessing the charismatic appeal of Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney is to some degree a “safe choice” for Fine Gael.

An able speaker with experience in both rural and national issues, Coveney is a second-generation Fine Gael politician with strong party roots.

In the departments where he served as minister he has a reputation for openness, honesty and a meticulous approach, and this has proven popular with the grassroots in Fine Gael.

Of course, becoming Fine Gael party leader after Enda is no guarantee of becoming Taoiseach but appears a fairly likely scenario at this stage.

To be Taoiseach, Coveney has to first win over his colleagues in Fine Gael before convincing the independents and Fianna Fáil to continue offering their support for this minority government.

Leo Varadkar is the bookies’ favourite – at the time of writing he is 1/5 to win, with Coveney 3/1 – to become the next leader of the country, but Simon Coveney cannot be ruled out.

Last September, it was put to him that most people expected the minority government to fall within six months.

Coveney disagreed. He told “I don’t think that is realistic. I think we might surprise a few people.”

Following his father into politics, the even-handed Coveney has done little to shock as he has risen steadily within the Fine Gael party and performed solidly in government.

It may be a surprise that this government remains intact, but it would be little surprise to see Simon Coveney chosen to become Ireland’s next Taoiseach within the next few weeks.

Read: Leo still ahead in leadership race, but Fine Gael supporters leaning towards Simon

Read: Poll shows Fine Gael is leaning towards Leo, but leader race could go either way

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