Northern Ireland news

Simon Coveney recalls trauma of childhood stammer in bid to raise awareness

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Picture by Rebecca Black/PA Wire

THE Republic's Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has told of his struggles with a childhood stammer which meant he struggled to read aloud.

He recalled as a schoolboy breaking pencils under his desk in "frustration" at being unable to speak properly in class.

The prominent Fine Gael member and former táiniste is one of the government's top negotiators who was a key figure on the international stage during the Brexit talks.

Mr Coveney discussed his personal experience of dealing with a speech impediment to mark International Stuttering Awareness Day on Saturday.

Speaking to RTÉ he said he wanted to use his position to support other people who struggle to communicate.

"If you've got a stammer or a stutter, there's nowhere to hide. That's the truth, which means it can be quite cruel," he said.

"So that's why I think it's important for people like me, who struggled when I was in school to simply read out loud, who broke pencils under the desk out of frustration because I couldn't get words out; and now it's my job every day to speak to the public."

It was not the first time that Mr Coveney has discussed his speech impediment.

At a conference in 2014, he told the audience he once suffered from a "significant stutter" and "couldn’t speak properly" as a young boy.

"When I was in school, in English class or in French or Irish class, when it came to reading prose or paragraphs, the teachers simply skipped me, because I took so long to get through sentence by sentence.”

He also revealed the personal significance for him of the song Happy Talk from the musical South Pacific.

"When I was asked in our party gatherings to do my party piece, I would always sing, and that’s the song I sang," he said.

"Because people with a speech impediment can normally sing as badly or as well as anybody else, even though they can’t speak."

Northern Ireland news