Monday 18 December 2017

Facing the toughest job in politics

Simon Coveney TD beside the LÉ Samuel Beckett in Cork Harbour
Simon Coveney TD beside the LÉ Samuel Beckett in Cork Harbour
John Downing

John Downing

Simon Coveney's middle name very probably should be "Earnest". The Fine Gael leadership succession is seen as a contest between the Housing Minister and his rival, Leo Varadkar. At Leinster House right now, Varadkar is seen to be ahead by some distance - but things can change, especially in the face of a real contest.

Coveney has been handed the toughest job in Irish politics as he grapples with trying to solve the national homeless and housing crisis.

"When I see someone wrapped up in a cardboard box in a doorway, I see that person as my responsibility politically. It's as simple as that," he told the Irish Independent recently.

We have elsewhere noted that his sincerity on the issue is not doubted - his ability to deliver remains unproven. This has not stopped him setting ambitious targets.

"Some people say I'm crazy to do it… but that's why I've said, by the middle of next year we need to find a way of ensuring we've no families in commercial hotels as emergency accommodation. And I am going to make that happen," he told us.

We have elsewhere noted achievements as Agriculture Minister. As Defence Minister he initiated and warmly supported the Irish Navy's migrant rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

In day-to-day politics, he successfully directed referendum campaigns in May 2012 on the EU Fiscal Treaty, and in May 2015 on same-sex marriage.

What is his own view about being the next leader?

"Well look, I'll take on those challenges when they're relevant. We can go into navel-gazing and leadership and who's best placed to do what and that can go on for months. And it's a distraction to be honest that I don't need," he insists.

But once we get over the protests, we are back with an emphasis on achievement.

"Whatever ministry I have, whether it's defence, whether it's marine, whether it's agriculture, I've tried to make as big a mark as I can in taking on some big challenges and trying to overcome them. I've got some very big challenges at the moment to take on and overcome, and there's a lot of people relying on me to do it."

But racking up achievements, even for those who eat, breathe and live politics, is only part of the picture.

"Simon is doing everything and appears to be nowhere. Leo is doing little enough and appears to be everywhere," one veteran party person summed up.

Being earnest is often not enough - especially when pitching for the highest elected job in Irish politics.

Indo Review

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