Friday 24 November 2017

Analysis: Abandoned Coveney is bruised today, but his time may yet come

Simon Coveney at the Mansion house this evening
Simon Coveney at the Mansion house this evening
Simon Coveney TD with his wife Ruth during the Fine Gael Leadership Election at the Mansion House, Dublin
Simon Coveney embraces Leo Varadkar at the Mansion House, Dublin
Leo Varadkar at the Mansion House minutes after being elected the new leader of Fine Gael
Leo Varadkar with his parents Ashok and Miriam
Simon Harris TD at the Mansion House, Dublin
Simon Coveney minutes after Leo Varadkar was announced as the new Fine Gael leader
Leo Varadkar at the Mansion House minutes after being elected the new leader of Fine Gael
Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Mark Condren
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

"I'VE never had a coffee with him in six years," the backbencher said.

And there-in lay the root of Simon Coveney’s problem going into the leadership contest.

The Cork TD is extremely bruised today but will have learned a lot from the past two weeks.

His closest colleagues, who he thought he could rely on, abandoned him and went with the young whippersnapper who is a first generation Fine Gaeler and a Dub.

While he criticised Leo Varadkar for spending a year plotting and scheming to become Taoiseach, the reality is that this is politics. Not just in Ireland but the world over. 

It was naïve of Mr Coveney to think that members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party would wait until they heard the policies before deciding who to back in the contest.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny arrives to camp Ziouani at the Golan heights to visit Irish peace keeping troops for Christmas. Included is Minister Simon Coveney
Taoiseach Enda Kenny arrives to camp Ziouani at the Golan heights to visit Irish peace keeping troops for Christmas. Included is Minister Simon Coveney

The campaign to replace Enda Kenny has been underway since before the last year’s general election.

The result of that ballot, which saw Fine Gael lose 26 seats, only moved the full-blown contest closer.

People on all sides of the negotiations for this government have claimed that Mr Varadkar appeared somewhat disinterested during the process.

The heavy speculation is that he would not have been too concerned if a new Government couldn’t be formed because that would have sparked an immediate leadership contest.

When it didn’t happen, he changed tact and travelled the country meeting councillors, attending party meetings and presenting himself as an all-round top guy.

At the same time Mr Coveney was engulfed in a housing crisis, fighting with Fianna Fáil over the future of water charges and trying to develop a reputation as an all-round top legislator.

The Housing Minister believed that people would judge the candidates based on policies and performance rather than personality and accessibility.

He quickly discovered otherwise when on day one of the campaign he was being asked if he had the X Factor to be Taoiseach.

Few would say that Enda Kenny has the X Factor – but politics and Ireland is very different than it was even six years ago.

Leo Varadkar presented a more ‘fun future’ than Mr Coveney. It was evident from their policy documents.

While Mr Coveney tried paint the future by drawing on the past, Mr Varadkar spoke of a new Ireland.

The Cork candidate put forward a document than was high on notion, low on tangible ideas. He didn’t want to be accused of making election promises that he couldn’t keep.

On the other hand Mr Varadkar offered new motorways and free education.

In fairness Mr Coveney reacted well when it appeared his campaign had fallen at the first hurdle. Despite some in his team thinking he should opt-out, he dusted himself down and hit the road meeting the membership.

It was always going to be too little, too late.

But he now knows what it takes to win a leadership contest. He is only 44 years old and a career politician.

Mr Varadkar has said in the past that he wanted to out of politics by 51. He revised that position during the campaign but it seems unlikely that the new leader will spent 15 years at the helm of the party as Enda Kenny did.

These chances don’t come once in a lifetime. Just ask Bertie Ahern who originally lost out to Albert Reynolds, or indeed Enda Kenny who was beaten at the first attempt by Michael Noonan.

Simon Coveney’s time may yet come.

Online Editors

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