Simon Coveney confirms he will not contest next general election

Former tánaiste announces decision to leave politics after more than 25 years

Simon Coveney: to step down at next election. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Former tánaiste Simon Coveney has confirmed he will not run for the Dáil again.

Mr Coveney wrote to Fine Gael members in his constituency of Cork South Central on Wednesday morning to break the news. “I have come to the view some time ago that it’s time for me to step out of politics at the next election, after the extraordinary privilege of serving this constituency for 26 years,” he wrote.

In a copy of the letter to members posted on social media platform X, Mr Coveney said he had “loved almost every day of public life”, which was made possible “only because of the trust and generosity of the people of Cork South Central to whom I’ll be forever grateful”.

The former minister for enterprise wrote he would not be leaving politics if he did not believe the future was bright. “Our party is strong and ambitious, our new leader has brought an energy that is reinvigorating the organisation at every level.”

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Speaking to reporters at Leinster House on Wednesday, Taoiseach Simon Harris said Mr Coveney was a close friend and he fully understood and respected his colleague’s decision.

“He is a person who served his country well,” said Mr Harris, adding Mr Coveney had “made a real impact on Ireland”.

The Taoiseach said he would always be remembered for protecting the national interest during Brexit, which he said had even been acknowledged by political foes of Mr Coveney. He said candidates were “lining up” to get on the Fine Gael ticket in Cork South Central, promising the party would be “very competitive” there and is “regenerating in real time”.

Mr Coveney has held five Cabinet portfolios since being appointed as minister for agriculture by Enda Kenny when the Fine Gael-Labour coalition came to power in 2011. He was minister for housing between 2016 and 2017, before serving as minister for foreign affairs across two governments either side of the 2020 general election. He also served as minister for defence for two years, before being appointed minister for enterprise after Leo Varadkar took over as taoiseach from Micheál Martin in December 2022.

In 2017, he contested the Fine Gael leadership with Leo Varadkar, losing out after the parliamentary party strongly backed his Dublin West rival, but winning the vote among the Fine Gael grassroots.

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He was appointed deputy leader of Fine Gael, only resigning that position after he stepped back from Cabinet when Simon Harris was elected. He was tánaiste under Leo Varadkar for three years, taking over when Frances Fitzgerald stepped down amid controversy following a series of policing scandals.

Mr Coveney was most recently director of elections for Fine Gael’s European campaign, which saw the party retain four MEPs.

He was first elected to the Dáil in a byelection that followed the death of his father, Hugh Coveney, in 1998. He was re-elected in 2002 and sat as an MEP from 2004 before being returned as a TD again in the 2007 general election. He was appointed to Cabinet by Enda Kenny.

He was seen to have acquitted himself well during the horse meat controversy in 2013 and was to the fore of the Irish effort to handle the fallout from Brexit, taking a leading role on behalf of Ireland during negotiations between the European Union and the UK.

However, his career was not without controversy: as housing minister, he initiated the Rebuilding Ireland plan that was inherited by his successor Eoghan Murphy and became emblematic of the Government’s inability to manage the housing crisis.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, he was embroiled in a scandal relating to the appointment of his former Cabinet colleague Katherine Zappone as a special envoy to the UN – an issue compounded by Ms Zappone hosting an event at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin that became a focus of attention over whether it complied with Covid regulations.

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Mr Coveney later admitted to deleting texts from his phone relating to the matter, which drew a backlash from coalition partners in Fianna Fáil and culminated in a motion of confidence against him, which he won, in September 2021.

He was a close friend of Paul Hyde, the former deputy chair of An Bord Pleanála, who was given a suspended sentence and fined over his failure to declare interests in a number of properties when a member of the planning body.

Mr Coveney hails from a storied Cork family. His brother Patrick Coveney is a former chief executive of Greencore, the publicly listed convenience food maker, while another brother, Rory, was until last year RTÉ's director of strategy before stepping down following a series of scandals at the station stemming from the emergence of secret payments to presenter Ryan Tubridy.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times