Thursday 23 November 2017

'Mastermind' behind plan to scrap Seanad joins team Coveney

Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Frank McGrath
Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Frank McGrath
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Simon Coveney has drafted in the architect of Fine Gael's plan to abolish the Seanad, as well as the shelved policy on Universal Health Insurance, to shape his leadership election manifesto.

The Irish Independent has learned that Sean Faughnan, who served for years as one of Enda Kenny's most senior advisers, is now helping Mr Coveney in policy formation ahead of his leadership battle with Leo Varadkar.

Mr Coveney and Mr Faughnan are close allies and worked side-by-side on the party's strategy to scrap the Upper House.

Mr Faughnan has been described as the 'mastermind' behind the abolition pledge - which was eventually rejected by voters in the form of a referendum.

Having served as a senior aide to Mr Kenny while Fine Gael was in opposition, Mr Faughnan spearheaded the party's policies along with Andrew McDowell and Ciarán Conlon.

Mr Conlon, who previously advised Richard Bruton when he was jobs minister, has also been appointed to a leading role in Mr Coveney's campaign team.

But Mr Faughnan, who has a degree from Cambridge University, is credited with persuading Mr Kenny to change his mind on the issue of Seanad abolition.

The outgoing Taoiseach had previously favoured retaining the chamber.

At the MacGill summer school in July 2009, the then opposition leader said the Seanad should be reformed.

But three months later, at a Fine Gael presidential dinner, he performed a U-turn and announced a referendum on abolition.

While Mr Faughnan was instrumental in the policy for abolition, sources pointed out that he played little role in the campaign itself and was critical in how it was run.

Mr Faughnan then took up a role as special adviser to the then health minister James Reilly and was critical in establishing the special delivery unit.

But Mr Faughnan was also the driving force behind another disastrous policy, Universal Health Insurance (UHI).

In late 2015, Leo Varadkar announced that the then Fine Gael-Labour coalition was no longer pushing ahead with the policy. He claimed the additional fees would have prompted a backlash from families.

Mr Faughnan could not be reached for comment last night.

In relation to his new role, several sources confirmed he is advising Mr Coveney on specific policies ahead of the campaign itself.

But one source close to the Housing Minister stressed that the role is an informal one.

Irish Independent

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