Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney (born 16 June 1972) is an Irish Fine Gael politician who has served as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence since June 2020 and Deputy Leader of Fine Gael since June 2017. He has served as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Cork South-Central constituency since 1998. He previously served as Tánaiste from 2017 to 2020, Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government from 2016 to 2017 and Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine from 2011 to 2016. He also served as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the South constituency from 2004 to 2007.[1]

Simon Coveney

Minister for Foreign Affairs
Assumed office
14 June 2017
TaoiseachLeo Varadkar
Micheál Martin
Preceded byCharles Flanagan
Minister for Defence
Assumed office
27 June 2020
TaoiseachMicheál Martin
Preceded byLeo Varadkar
In office
11 July 2014  6 May 2016
TaoiseachEnda Kenny
Preceded byEnda Kenny
Succeeded byEnda Kenny
Deputy Leader of Fine Gael
Assumed office
13 June 2017
LeaderLeo Varadkar
Preceded byJames Reilly
In office
30 November 2017  27 June 2020
TaoiseachLeo Varadkar
Preceded byFrances Fitzgerald
Succeeded byLeo Varadkar
Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government
In office
6 May 2016  14 June 2017
TaoiseachEnda Kenny
Preceded byAlan Kelly
Succeeded byEoghan Murphy
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine
In office
9 March 2011  6 May 2016
TaoiseachEnda Kenny
Preceded byBrendan Smith
Succeeded byMichael Creed
Teachta Dála
Assumed office
October 1998
ConstituencyCork South-Central
Member of the European Parliament
In office
20 July 2004  24 June 2007
Personal details
Born (1972-06-16) 16 June 1972 (age 49)
Cork, Ireland
Political partyFine Gael
Ruth Furney
(m. 2008)
EducationClongowes Wood College
Alma mater

He was elected to Dáil Éireann in a by-election, following the death of his father Hugh Coveney.

After the formation of the coalition government in March 2011, Coveney was appointed Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Following a cabinet reshuffle in July 2014, which saw him also take over the position of Minister for Defence.[2] Following the formation of a Fine Gael minority government in May 2016, he was appointed Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.[3] In June 2017, after Leo Varadkar succeeded Enda Kenny as Taoiseach, Varadkar appointed Coveney as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Deputy Leader of Fine Gael. He was appointed Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) in November 2017, following the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald. As part of the new government formed following the 2020 general election, Coveney was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence in the new cabinet.

Early life

Coveney was born in Cork in 1972 to Hugh Coveney and Pauline Coveney. His father was a chartered quantity surveyor and later a TD, and also a member of one of the famous merchant families in the city. His uncle is Archbishop Patrick Coveney. Simon was educated locally in Cork, before later attending Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare. He was expelled from the college in Transition Year but ultimately was invited back to complete his full six years there. He repeated his Leaving Certificate in Bruce College in Cork.[4] Coveney subsequently attended University College Cork and Gurteen Agricultural College, before completing a BSc in Agriculture and Land Management from Royal Agricultural College, Gloucestershire. In 1997/8, he led the “Sail Chernobyl Project” which involved sailing a boat 30,000 miles around the world and raising €650,000 for charity. He spent several years working as an agriculture adviser and farm manager.

His brother, Patrick, is chief executive of the food corporation Greencore.[5]

Political career

Early years in Dáil Éireann: 1998–2004

Coveney was elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael candidate for Cork South-Central in a by-election, caused by the death of his father in 1998. In spite of being a strong supporter of party leader John Bruton, he remained on the backbenches for a number of years.

In 2001, discipline in the parliamentary party broke down and Coveney came out against Bruton in a leadership heave. His loss of support was a surprise and encouraged others to vote against Bruton. The subsequent leadership contest was won by Michael Noonan and a new front bench was put in place.

After an initial period on the backbenches, Coveney was promoted to the Front Bench by Michael Noonan, as deputy chief whip.

Coveney was re-elected at the 2002 general election, in what turned out to be a disaster for Fine Gael. The party lost twenty-three seats and some of its most important party figures. Noonan was replaced as party leader by Enda Kenny, who promoted Coveney to the position of Spokesperson on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, in his new front bench.

Member of the European Parliament: 2004–2007

Coveney was elected to the European Parliament for the South constituency, in the 2004 European Parliament election. During his three years as an MEP, Coveney held the position of human rights co-ordinator for the largest political group in the European Parliament, the European People's Party, and twice authored the Parliament's Annual Report on Human Rights in the world. He spearheaded the Stop the Traffic campaign at the European Parliament. He was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Delegation for Relations with the United States and a substitute on the Human Rights Subcommittee, Fisheries Committee, Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee and the Delegation for Relations with Iran.

Return to the Dáil: 2007–2011

Coveney returned to Ireland to contest the 2007 general election. He was successful in being returned to the Dáil, as a result, he stepped down as a Member of the European Parliament. He was replaced in the European Parliament by Colm Burke.[6]

Fine Gael won back many of the seats that the party had lost five years earlier; however, they still fell short of forming a coalition government with the Labour Party. Coveney returned to the party's front bench as Spokesperson on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

In June 2010, Coveney and a number of other front bench Spokespersons stated that they had no confidence in their party leader, Enda Kenny. A subsequent confidence motion in the leader was won by Kenny.[7] Coveney was re-appointed to the front bench as Spokesperson on Transport.[8]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine: 2011–2016

On 9 March 2011, Coveney was appointed Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, in the new Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition government.

He attended his first meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers, in Brussels on 17 March 2011.[9]

Coveney provoked controversy when, in September 2011, he flew to Algeria, on the government jet at a cost of more than €26,000 to the Irish taxpayer when there were flights available for €16,331.[10] While there, Coveney cut a ribbon at the opening of a supermarket in Oran.[11][12]

In May 2014, Coveney attended a meeting of the Bilderberg Group, in Copenhagen.[13]

Minister for Defence: 2014–2016

Fmr. Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lt Gen Conor O'Boyle briefing then Minister of Defence Simon Coveney

On 11 July 2014, Coveney was also appointed as Minister for Defence, in a cabinet reshuffle, following the resignation of Eamon Gilmore as Tánaiste. He took over from Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who was the acting Minister for Defence, following Alan Shatter's resignation from cabinet, in May 2014.[14] As Minister for Defence, Coveney launched the White Paper on Defence in August 2015.[15]

On 17 June 2015, Coveney questioned the judgment of an experienced Air Corps pilot who refused to fly him to Cork, because of predicted fog. In email correspondence between Department of Defence officials, the Air Corps is described as being “very unhappy” about the incident and[16] indicating that they had never received such a call in 25 years.”

In January 2017 it emerged that a number of Air Corps whistleblowers had attempted to contact Coveney while he was Defence Minister over their concerns about the adverse health impacts of chemicals used to service the force's aircraft. The whistleblowers had complained about being unable to speak to Coveney about the issue, however Coveney claimed he was “not aware of there being any problem with hearing from, or talking to, or understanding the concerns that whistleblowers may have”.

The Irish Examiner subsequently published a series of text messages between one of the whistleblowers and then-Chief Whip Regina Doherty sent in January 2016. Doherty forwarded a text message onto one of the whistleblowers that she said came from Coveney, in which he said he would call this whistleblower the next day. The call never took place. [17]

Speaking in the Dáil on the revelations, Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin described the Government handling of the whistleblowers' complaints as 'a scandal'.[18]

Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government: 2016–17

On 6 May 2016, Coveney was appointed the new Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny taking over the Defence portfolio and Fine Gael TD Michael Creed becoming the new Minister for Agriculture.[19]

Fine Gael leadership election: 2017

On 2 June 2017, Coveney lost the 2017 Fine Gael leadership election to Leo Varadkar, despite gaining the support of 65% of party members (party members only had 25% of the vote in Fine Gael's electoral college). The winner was expected to succeed Enda Kenny as Taoiseach. On 13 June 2017, it was announced that he would be the deputy leader of the party.[20]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade: 2017–present

Coveney with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2018

After Leo Varadkar was appointed Taoiseach, by the President of Ireland, as part of his new cabinet, Coveney was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, with special responsibilities for Brexit.[21] Coveney replaced Charles Flanagan, who became Minister for Justice and Equality. It was understood Coveney heavily lobbied Varadkar for the role as he wanted a large role on Brexit. In his capacity as Minister, he has also been co-chairing the European People's Party (EPP) Justice and Home Affairs Ministers Meeting since 2018, alongside Esteban González Pons.[22]

According to Lawrence Franklin of the Gatestone Institute, within the Irish government, Coveney opposes the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill to ban goods produced in Israeli settlements. He has expressed concern that the bill might contravene EU trade law.[23]

In July 2020, he was re-appointed as Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Trade portfolio was re-assigned to another government department.


On 30 November 2017, Leo Varadkar named Coveney as the new Tánaiste, replacing Frances Fitzgerald.[24]

Brexit negotiations

On 27 January 2019, Coveney in an interview with Andrew Marr, said the Irish backstop in the Brexit withdrawal agreement will not be changed. He said the backstop was already a pragmatic compromise between the United Kingdom and the European Union to avoid infrastructure on the Irish border, that there was no sensible legally-sound alternative to the backstop, and that the European Parliament would not ratify a Brexit withdrawal agreement without the backstop in it.[25]

COVID-19 pandemic

As Minister for Foreign Affairs, Conveney headed up the response to the COVID-19 pandemic on behalf of the Government of Ireland. On 10 March 2020, he upgraded travel advice recommending that Irish citizens do not travel to Italy. He added that people should think carefully about unnecessary public gatherings and urged the public to play their part and help themselves by following advice and doing practical things like sneezing and washing hands properly.[26]

Personal life

Coveney married his long-time girlfriend Ruth Furney, an IDA Ireland employee, in July 2008.[27] They have three daughters and live in Carrigaline in Cork.[28][29]

See also


  1. "Simon Coveney". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  2. "Taoiseach announces new Cabinet". RTÉ News. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
  3. "Frances Fitzgerald is Tánaiste in new Cabinet". RTÉ News. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  4. "Miriam Meets...... Patrick and Simon Coveney, TD". RTÉ Radio 1. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
  5. "Fionnan Sheahan: It's game on in Fine Gael as Simon goes on a listening tour and Leo sees his lead narrow in contest". Irish Independent. 6 May 2017.
  6. "Simon Coveney". Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  7. "Kenny survives confidence vote". RTÉ News. 17 June 2010. Archived from the original on 19 June 2010. Retrieved 3 July 2010.
  8. "Bruton & Noonan return to Fine Gael frontbench". RTÉ News. 1 July 2010. Archived from the original on 4 July 2010. Retrieved 3 July 2010.
  9. "Simon Coveney to attend EU agriculture talks". RTÉ News. 16 March 2011.
  10. McQuinn, Cormac; Sheehan, Aideen (9 November 2011). "Coveney stands by €26,000 spend on government jet". Irish Independent. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
  11. McQuinn, Cormac (8 November 2011). "Coveney 'cut ribbon' for shop on €26,000 jet trip to Algeria". Irish Independent. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  12. "The Government Minister, the supermarket-opening and the €26,000 bill". JOE. 8 November 2011. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  13. "This minister is heading to the secretive Bilderberg summit – but in a 'private capacity'". 28 May 2014. Archived from the original on 8 June 2015.
  14. "Letter of resignation" (PDF). Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  15. Minihan, Mary (27 August 2015). "Simon Coveney says Ireland has under-invested in defence". The Irish Times. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  16. "Coveney challenged pilot who refused to fly due to fog forecast". Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  17. Leogue, Joe (8 February 2017). "Texts suggest Simon Coveney knew of Air Corps whistleblowers". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 30 November 2020.
  18. Oireachtas, Houses of the (1 February 2017). "Leaders' Questions – Dáil Éireann (32nd Dáil) – Wednesday, 1 Feb 2017 – Houses of the Oireachtas". Retrieved 30 November 2020.
  19. "Frances Fitzgerald is Tánaiste in new Cabinet". RTÉ News. 6 May 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  20. "Varadkar appoints Coveney as deputy Fine Gael leader". RTÉ News. 13 June 2017. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  21. "Coveney appointed Irish foreign minister". BBC News. 15 June 2017.
  22. Council of the EU and Ministerial meetings European People’s Party (EPP).
  23. Franklin, Lawrence (29 July 2019). "Dublin's Anti-Israel Boycott Bill: Bad for Ireland, Worse for the Palestinians, Terrible for Everyone". Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  24. "Everything you need to know about the new Tánaiste Simon Coveney". Irish Independent. 1 December 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  25. "There will be no change to the Brexit backstop, says Coveney". Irish Times. 27 January 2019.
  26. "Irish citizens recommended not to go to Italy - Coveney". 10 March 2020. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  27. "Coveney marries long-term sweetheart". Irish Examiner. 28 July 2008. Retrieved 22 September 2020.
  28. Sheehy, Clodagh (26 February 2013). "Girls Aloud: Simon Coveney welcomes third daughter baby Annalise". Irish Independent. Retrieved 22 September 2020.
  29. Anderson, Nicola (22 May 2017). "At home with the Coveneys: my husband is far from boring and will be fighting on". Irish Independent. Retrieved 22 September 2020.