At home with the Coveneys: my husband is far from boring and will be fighting on
Rain is falling for Coveney... but wife Ruth paints picture of a doting father, writes Nicola Anderson
Angst is writ large on the face of Simon Coveney as he paces through the lobby of the Carrigaline Court Hotel.
A scroll through the news feeds reveals how moments before, Leo Varadkar had pulled Michael Ring and Frances Fitzgerald out of a hat with a flourish. Surely this was end game?
We sit in placid resignation that this interview, long requested, is about to be cancelled.
But it turns out that the Fine Gaeler has no plans to quit - at least not just yet.
It transpires he had raced home ahead to their comfortable old farmhouse, around which Carrigaline sprang up, to tidy up camogie gear after his daughters' morning training session.
Beth (7), Jessica (5) and Annalise (3), a delight in little brightly coloured spectacles, conduct a tour of their playroom to show off one of their latest collaborations with their father - a large painting of some deep sea whales decorated with a cluster of seashells and seaweed.
During the week, Ruth Furney keeps this show on the road while her husband is in Dublin. Originally from Lotamore across the city, Ruth was the youngest of 10 until her mother, Breda, died just as she was coming up on her fourth birthday.
Her father, Jim, remarried and had two further children. Now all 12 Furney children "get on great" and are scattered across Ireland and Canada.
Ruth worked for the IDA on the Cork and Kerry regional investment team for 10 years, but gave up her job last August because it was becoming too much of a juggling act. She also happened to have turned 42 - the same age her mother was when she died and this was also a factor.
"It was a hard decision - it took me a couple of years to decide to leave," she says.
But she hasn't regretted it.
"Look, it is often hard being on my own there's no two ways about that, but I've got great friends, great family too," she says.
In another way, Simon being away makes it easier.
"Then I can kind of switch off from that side because I get kind of worried, anxious about it, and so when he's away I just focus on the girls," she explains.
When he's home, he's very hands on - with grocery shopping his special chore. But can he cook?
"I have three dishes," he begins, before Ruth leans in with a grin: "Poorly."
The couple have been together since college - though not continuously, they are quick to point out.
"We took a couple of breaks," explains Simon.
They met through mutual friends at school - Ruth at St Angela's in Cork while Simon went to Clongowes. The couple started to go out when Ruth was about four months into her psychology degree in UCC. Then Simon came home and met her granny - who, as it turned out, was a lifelong friend of Simon's granny.
"I hated that at first," laughs Ruth.
"Don't get too gushy now," says Simon wryly.
A sign pinned up beside the cream Aga in the country kitchen reminds: "Into every life a little rain must fall and then the sun comes out again." This could be said to be one of those rainy spells.
Simon accepts the fact that this contest has suddenly gone very quickly and very decisively one way. Is there a chance that Leo streaked ahead simply because Simon played by the rules and Leo didn't?
He exhales. "Look, I will refuse to allow myself to be bitter here. I don't like losing - no mistake about it," he says. "I think I was the best person to lead the party and at least 20 and a few more thought that too - and still think it."
But he recognises "political realities" and says he doesn't want this contest to turn bitter because it would ultimately weaken the party.
He wants a debate to take place on the future of the party. "I want to be somebody who changes things, not someone who plays the political game, catches people out, brings people down," he says.
Is this a dig at Leo?
"It's actually not. Actually Leo is a deep thinker - that's the side of him that people I don't think have seen yet," he says. "He's well able to use one-liners too. Look, we are different personalities there's no question about that. I am, perhaps, more policy-driven than he is, but let's wait and see."
But, generally speaking, politics is not really welcome at all in the Coveney sanctuary. Ruth admits she often has to turn the radio off if she thinks they're being too harsh on her husband. "That's when I put on my audio books," she says with a troubled frown.
Does it annoy her when people call her husband boring? She grimaces. "Yes, yes it does because it's the polar opposite. We live life at 110 miles per hour - we do things in a day that would be perfect to do over the space of four weeks. Once we went to a concert, the races and a wedding in one day - in two different countries."
Animals are a huge part of the Coveney home - Coco and Alf and a tomcat from Ballymun along with a few goldfish. "We'd have 10 more animals if we could," grins the Housing Minister. "It's one of the things we're about as a family."