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Simon Coveney: Cork merchant prince served long spell on political front line, from horse meat to Brexit

Long-serving minister replaced his father in 1998 and has been a player in national picture for much of last 26 years

Simon Coveney (51) has been at the front line of Irish politics for 26 years with half of that time spent at the Cabinet table.

The Cork politician has confirmed he is not putting his name forward to stay in Cabinet ahead of new Fine Gael leader Simon Harris’s expected election as taoiseach next week.

Insisting on Tuesday that he is “as energised by politics as I’ve always been” it remains to be seen if Coveney will seek re-election to the seat he first won in 1998 after the death of his father, Fine Gael TD Hugh Coveney.

Simon Coveney has been re-elected every time the country went to the polls ever since.

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From Cork’s so-called ‘merchant class’, Coveney, a father of three, is a sailing and rugby fan.

His only break from the Dáil was the three years he spent as an MEP between 2004 and 2007.

In 2010 he backed Richard Bruton in the ill-fated heave against then party leader Enda Kenny.

Despite this, Kenny appointed Coveney to Cabinet as minister for agriculture in 2011.

The horse meat crisis of 2013 was an early test for the new minister.

Coveney is seen as having steadied the ship during the food scandal that shook the industry.

The defence brief was added to his responsibilities in 2014.

His time at the department saw the deployment of Naval Service vessels to the Mediterranean to help rescue refugees making the dangerous crossing to Europe.

He was appointed as minister for housing at the start of the Fine Gael led-minority government in 2016.

Coveney launched his “Rebuilding Ireland” action plan and over-promised in a pledge to end the practice of homeless families being housed in hotels and B&Bs by the middle of 2017. This did not happen.

He lost out to Leo Varadkar in the Fine Gael leadership contest in 2017, winning a majority of grassroots members but not enough crucial votes among TDs and senators who have more weight under Fine Gael’s system for electing a leader.

Varadkar appointed him as Fine Gael deputy leader and minister for foreign affairs and Coveney also later assumed the role of tánaiste.

He spearheaded Ireland’s successful bid to win a United Nations Security Council seat and has been widely praised for his stout defence of Ireland’s interests during Brexit.

Coveney stayed in the foreign affairs brief at the start of the current Coalition.

He blundered in a controversial attempt to appoint former minister Katherine Zappone as a special envoy to the UN.

However, he recovered politically and was among the first foreign politicians to visit Ukraine after the Russian invasion.

The December 2022 reshuffle saw Coveney moved to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Though there have been job losses in the tech industry during this time, Ireland is effectively in a period of full employment.

Coveney told RTÉ radio on Tuesday: “I entered politics under a sort of a sad cloud in a byelection but since then I’ve never regretted entering politics.

“It’s been a fascinating life for me, hugely rewarding.”

He said he is “not going to rush” a decision on whether or not he will seek re-election in Cork Couth Central.

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