The Irish Times view on Simon Coveney leaving cabinet: Brexit talks were a key contribution

Simon Harris now has more scope to reshape the Cabinet, but is losing the substantial experience of a senior figure

It would be doing Simon Coveney something of a disservice to describe him as a nearly-man of Irish politics, but he departs the front bench with at least one ambition unfulfilled. First elected in 1998, he has been a cabinet minister for the last 13 years. But his leadership ambitions were stymied in 2017 when he lost out to Leo Varadkar in the race to lead Fine Gael, despite having the support of the majority of the party’s rank-and-file.

His departure from cabinet, announced yesterday, comes in the wake of his decision not to contest the leadership following Varadkar’s stepping down. In doing so he cleared the way for 37-year-old Simon Harris, who is in line to be the State’s youngest Taoiseach.

Harris’ relative youth obscures the fact that Coveney himself is only 51 and – like 45-year-old Varadkar – a second act beckons, although he remains coy about his intentions regarding standing in the next election.

Coveney served as minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade between 2017 and 2022 and had special responsibility for Brexit. History will hold that Ireland handled Brexit with dexterity, most notably in its successful lobbying of the EU to ensure that the special position of Northern Ireland was a core part of the bloc’s negotiating position. The reimposition of a trade border on the island of Ireland was a real risk, but this was averted. Coveney must share the credit for this with Varadkar and others, but it was surely the high point of his political career.

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Likewise, his role as head of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic is adjudged, in the round, to have been more effective than many, even if did involve some of the longest and most stringent lockdowns.

In his latest role in Enterprise Trade and Employment he had a lower profile, while still managing a busy agenda. Losing Coveney does give Harris another senior post to fill, but also deprives Government of his considerable experience. That is the price of presenting a reshaped Cabinet.

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