Sunday 21 January 2018

Simon Coveney: On labour ward, I had to tell French minister 'my wife is having a baby'

Simon Coveney with his wife Ruth and daughters Beth and three day old Jennifer at home in Carrigaline, Co Cork. Picture: Richard Mills
Simon Coveney with his wife Ruth and daughters Beth and three day old Jennifer at home in Carrigaline, Co Cork. Picture: Richard Mills
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney with French Minister for Agriculture Stephane Le Foll. Photo: Barbara Lindberg.

AGRICULTURE Minister Simon Coveney has admitted that politicians' "obsession with votes" puts them at risk of neglecting their own families.

In an extraordinary insight into the life of a politician, he revealed that he came close to losing perspective on what is important in life because of his career.

Between key talks for the Common Agriculture Policy and Fisheries Policies last year during the Irish Presidency of the EU, the minister's third child Annalise was born.

Mr Coveney revealed that he had taken a phonecall from his French counterpart, Stephane Le Foll, while on the maternity ward waiting for his wife to give birth.

"I said, 'Stephane, with all due respect, my wife is about to have a feckin' baby'," the minister told delegates at the Laya business and self-empowerment summit at the Convention Centre in Dublin.

But he also said: "Certainly in my profession I know people who have lost their families with an obsession with politics, with votes, with popularity, with elections.

"It's an obsession that their partners and their families simply can't deal with. The most important things in life are the things that when you finish your career, you still have.

"And the people who don't give a damn, quite frankly, how successful you are, what you change or what you do, how much money you have, or how many photographs you get in the paper, are the people who just want to be with you because they want to be with you.

"And if you lose that perspective, as I have nearly done in my career, to my cost privately, you will learn some very, very emotive and hard lessons."

Mr Coveney married his long-time girlfriend Ruth Furney, an IDA Ireland employee, in July 2008.

They now have three daughters -- Beth (4), Jessica (3) and Annalise is 10 months.

Mr Coveney became emotional when he told how Jessica had asked the previous night when he was coming home and had told him that she was keeping his bed warm for him.

He admitted that he had first been elected in 1998 "in somebody else's name, following a tragedy," in reference to the death of his father Hugh, who died after plunging from a cliff in Robert's Cove, Co Cork.

For the first six months of his political career, Mr Coveney said he had been "like a weather vane" but had quickly learned that he had to be himself and let people accept or reject him for that.

However, family is most important, the minister stressed. He said that if he lost his family he would consider himself a failure, whereas if he lost his seat he would move on and do something else.

Mr Coveney told delegates that he has a "dream job" -- but admitted last year had been extremely difficult but that it had given him the opportunity to "prove his own worth" in his own mind.

The first blow was the "great tragedy" of the death of his close friend, minister of state Shane McEntee, who took his own life.

Within a week of Mr McEntee's death, a senior civil servant Mr Coveney worked with was diagnosed with cancer. And soon after this, the horse-meat scandal struck.

In a searingly honest speech, delivered in a private rather than a ministerial capacity, Mr Coveney told how as a child, he had a "significant speech impediment" -- a stutter.

At parties, he would sing because his stutter did not affect that, he said. And he revealed his "worst ever media performance" as a minister when he had appeared on 'Tonight with Vincent Browne' to discuss the budget, but in fact it was to discuss Sinn Fein's alternative budget.

"The following 40 minutes was my worst ever media performance," the minister said, since he was debating a document he had not seen.

By Nicola Anderson

Irish Independent

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