Simon Coveney: I was passionate about becoming taoiseach at one point

Former tánaiste will not run for the Dáil again and is looking for ‘a change in direction’ after holding ‘virtually every office in the land except taoiseach’

Simon Coveney: at one time 'passionate' about becoming taoiseach. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Former tánaiste Simon Coveney, who has confirmed he will not run for the Dáil again, acknowledged that at one time in his political career he had been “passionate” about becoming taoiseach.

“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 to Fine Gael members in his constituency of Cork South Central on Wednesday morning.

Speaking on the Neil Prendeville Show on Cork radio station RedFM, Mr Coveney said: “At one point in my career, I really wanted to do that [be taoiseach]. I was passionate about what I could do as a taoiseach in Ireland.

“But I’ve had extraordinary opportunities. I’ve had five or six different ministries in government. I’ve put my whole life into trying to be as good as I can be for the people that I’m responsible for serving.


“For me I think now is the right time to change direction, to look for new challenges in life and to facilitate renewal in the political party that I’ve been working with and in for the last 26 years,” he said.

Mr Coveney said he wanted to thank the people of Cork. adding it had been a privilege to serve Cork and Cork South Central for the past 26 years. “I’ve managed to do it as a as a county councillor, as a TD, as a minister, as an MEP, as tánaiste, and it’s an extraordinary privilege for somebody to get that faith the people have put in me, and I’ve worked as hard as I can to make people proud and to work hard for people in Cork through all of those years.”

It had been incredibly rewarding, but also stressful, he added. “It’s demanding, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I stood for politics first, I made that decision at 25 after a tragedy in my family. I was very green, inexperienced. To be honest. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in for,” Mr Coveney said.

“I got elected initially on the back of a sympathy vote, I suspect, because my father had drowned tragically in Cork harbour, and I’m sure there was a lot of sympathy for the family on the back of that. But since then, I hope I’ve earned my place in politics, in the Dáil, and in the European Parliament and around the Cabinet table. And I have worked every day and every hour that I can to try to improve the lives of people in Cork and Ireland.

“It’s a job that has resulted in me travelling all over the world as defence minister, as a foreign minister, as a trade minister, trying to learn from other countries so that we could apply better practice in Ireland. I look at my own career and of course, there are some things that I’d like to have seen happen faster. There are certain decisions that I struggled with. There’s certain mistakes that I’ve made. But by and large it’s been an incredibly rewarding career for me.”

Simon Coveney confirms he will not contest next general electionOpens in new window ]

Mr Coveney said he had struggled with the abortion referendum, not because he disagreed with the proposition but because it was a very nuanced and personal decision for people to make.

“That was a really difficult thing for me to settle a position on in terms of recommending how people should vote. And I remember really struggling with it because the position I took did influence other people.

“You know, as a housing minister, I was impatient to make things happen a lot faster. And some of the things I just couldn’t get done as fast as I wanted, and some of the policies today that we see on housing were things I was asking the system for back eight years ago when I was a housing minister.”

Mr Coveney said he had enjoyed “virtually every day” of his political career, but believed it was now time for a change in direction in his life.

It was a decision that he had made, in consultation with his wife, he said, which was why he had indicated he did not have any interest in the leadership of Fine Gael when Leo Varadkar resigned. It was time to make way for new talent in the party and he was looking for new horizons, he said, adding: “I am excited about those.”

Mr Coveney denied the family’s move from Carrigaline to Cobh had been an indication of his political change of heart. The move had been a family decision and his wife and children loved the move, which had been good for them, he said. “It’s probably the first time I’ve moved house without political considerations coming first. And, I felt I owed that to my family.”

Mr Coveney also said he was not retiring from politics because he had been intimidated by the negativity and toxicity of social media. Politics had become more abrasive and aggressive but he had “lots of energy” and had many options available to him, “potentially” joining the private sector.

“We’ll have to wait and see how that develops. For now, it’s really just, for the first time in 26 years in my working life, since I was 25, I’m actually looking outside of politics and what I might be able to contribute.

“The important thing is that people remember me as somebody who was honest, I hope, as someone who worked incredibly hard for them. Somebody who was in politics for the right reasons.

“I’m not somebody who goes after headlines or cheap shots. I don’t crave publicity. I’m someone who wants society to change and move in the right direction, who wants Ireland to be a positive, progressive, ambitious country that’s successful, that provides careers for young people as they grow up, that responds to social needs in terms of vulnerable people who need the intervention of government. I’m a big believer in that,” Mr Coveney said.

“I’m not one of these people who believes in small government or right-wing politics. But I’m human as well, and I make mistakes. Not very many 52-year-olds can look back on a political career and say they’ve held virtually every office in the land except taoiseach.”