Simon Coveney to step down from Cabinet and refuses to say if he will run in general election

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment said he told incoming Taoiseach Simon Harris of his decision on Monday night.

Simon Coveney, left, and Simon Harris
Simon Coveney, left, and Simon Harris (Niall Carson/PA)

Dublin minister Simon Coveney has announced he will step down from the Cabinet next week.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment said he told incoming Taoiseach Simon Harris of his decision on Monday night.

Mr Harris is currently deciding who will be in his Cabinet as part of the reshuffle when he takes up the role of Taoiseach when the Dáil sits next week.

Mr Coveney, a former Tánaiste, said that the time was right to step aside as a Fine Gael minister.

The Cork TD refused to confirm whether he will run again in the next general election.

Despite saying he will run again as a candidate in the next general election less than two weeks ago, Mr Coveney would not confirm whether it remains his plan.

He said his future plans ahead of the next general election were “not for this week”.

“I’m a committed TD for Cork South Central. I intend on continuing to be that for the foreseeable future. But look, I’ll talk to my own team and my constituency and our councillors over the summer,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ.

“It’s not a yes or it’s not a no. It’s me being honest about it. I have to decide now what the future is for me, and how I can contribute and that’s something I’m not going to rush.

“It’s something to be honest I hadn’t even thought about really because I’ve been so focused and busy on the various different jobs that I’ve been so lucky to have.

“Now I’m going to have a little bit more time to focus on my constituency and our candidates that are running for local elections and for the European elections too and I’ll put a bit of thought into that over the next few months, but I’m not going to rush it.”

He also admitted he got an “adrenaline rush” when former party leader Leo Varadkar told him he was stepping down as he contemplated whether to contest the leadership.

But Mr Coveney, who was defeated by Mr Varadkar when he ran for the leadership in 2017, quickly ruled himself out.

“I got an adrenaline rush I think like anybody would when Leo decided to step down,” he said.

“I think everybody within the party thought about what the future was going to hold.

“But look, I made a decision with my family a number of years ago. I said the day after Leo stepped down that I wouldn’t be putting myself forward for the leadership of the party again, to be honest, that was a family personal decision.

“I’ve got three daughters that are entering their teenage years.

“And for me, I had a go at the leadership in terms of a contest with Leo.

“I was very lucky to be the deputy leader of the party, to be tanaiste for a number of years, and to be right at the centre of decision making in government for many years.

“That for me was the most rewarding job I could ever have had in politics. I have no regrets on that and as I said, I’m at peace with that decision.”

Mr Coveney said Mr Harris has made it clear he wants to create a “new-look Fine Gael” and to promote new talent in the party.

“I know he was struggling with the decision in relation to who would be in and who’d be out (of Cabinet),” Mr Coveney told RTÉ’s Today With Claire Byrne show.

“I think that for me having been in the Cabinet, which has been an amazing experience for 13 years, which is a lot more than most politicians have the privilege of having in Cabinet, I felt that the time was right both from his point of view and from mine to give them, him, space to create a new opportunity in the party in government.

“He thanked me and respected that.

“I think one of the most difficult things actually as an incoming party leader and incoming Taoiseach is to form a team that can slot into government well, particularly in an election year. I totally respect that that is a really difficult decision for Simon.”

Mr Coveney added: “He’s going to be the youngest Taoiseach ever. He’s a really talented person. I think he would want to bring forward new ideas and new energy in the party.

“I think he’ll want to bring a team with him to do that. I think for me, I don’t know whether he was going to ask me to be in Cabinet as part of that team or not.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney
Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I know he was weighing that up and we spoke about that both last week and again this week. But I think it makes life easier for him and I think it’s also a recognition by me too that Fine Gael needs renewal.

“We’re going to go into the next general election hoping to be in government for a fourth term, and I think a party needs to find a way of renewing itself, refreshing itself, bringing forward new faces, new voices, new ideas.

“In many ways, when Leo Varadkar decided to step down a couple of weeks ago, he started that process and obviously, my initial reaction to that was to steady the ship, to work within the party to make sure that we could manage to transition to a new leader quickly and efficiently and professionally because the country needs that right now.

“But I’ve had a chance really to think about it from a personal point of view over Easter with my family, and for me as I say, I’ve had an amazing 13 years at the centre of government.

“I think we’ve got lots of ambitious talent in the party and I’m going to now make it a bit easier. It may have happened anyway. I don’t know. But I make it a bit easier for Simon to promote that talent now.”