Simon Harris: Why I am sticking with Simon Coveney

His instinct is to challenge himself, to serve and try and make a real difference in people’s lives

Simon Harris believes Simon Coveney has the right personality and convictions to lead Fine Gael and the State. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Simon Harris believes Simon Coveney has the right personality and convictions to lead Fine Gael and the State. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

It’s been quite a fortnight for my party, for politics nerds (you know who you are) but also I hope, for the general public to see a new and different way for a political leader to be chosen. At the end of these two weeks there is good and bad news for the party; on the one hand it has been engaged and energised by the spectacle of two quality candidates battling to lead our party and our country to its next phase of growth and development; on the other hand just one of these superb candidates can emerge successfully at the end of the count on Friday.

And while opinions vary, and the arguments for and against are well rehearsed, I am sticking with Simon Coveney to become the next leader of Fine Gael and the next taoiseach of our country.

My reasons are both political and personal.

While it took a bit of a battering early on, the core ideals of the “Just Society” have emerged intact and further embraced by all sides of this debate about the future of our party. And it is because of his conviction about the type of politics that drove the ideals of the Just Society that I decided to back Coveney as our next leader. The idea of uniting Ireland by building on the values we share, rather than allowing the political differences we have divide us, is central to overcoming a problem at the heart of Irish politics.

In my time in national politics I have seen it grow more cynical and negative than ever. Division rather than unity is the focus. This focus is on carving out a narrow block of votes based on perceived small differences, rather than seeking solutions to big problems that affect us all. To become the country I think we can be, we need to change that.

The narrower political issue is for Fine Gael. As a party, we found a way to rebuild a shattered economy following the disastrous short-term politics that ruined Ireland. Now we must find a way to build a stronger society that is inclusive, tolerant and reaches out to everyone. That is the only way to move on from the politics of protest and short-term populism. To my mind that doesn’t mean we abandon a core competency on managing the economy soundly. No, it just means we have to expand our reach and be bolder in our ambition.

Yes, we must encourage and reward success but we must also support and encourage the vulnerable. This thinking has underscored everything Simon has passionately campaigned for in the course of this contest. I know the message is reaching Fine Gael members and voters but I also know that as a message, it is resonating beyond Fine Gael too.

Right personality

The second reason, beyond the political, for my supporting Simon in this contest is much more straight-forward. Through my years in politics I got to know Simon personally and I have worked with him on numerous projects that further persuaded me that he has the right personality and convictions to lead our party and our country.

I’ve seen him wade in, literally, when as Minister of State at the Office of Public Works I was faced with a huge challenge of historically severe flooding in numerous locations around the country. He didn’t have to get involved but he did, and that makes a huge difference in my mind. It was an instinctive response to get stuck in and it spoke volumes.

I also saw Simon at close quarters in the formation of the current Government and, again, it was his personal traits that stood out. The patience and stamina, the attention to detail, reaching out to colleagues from outside our normal political base, all spoke to a person who was ready for the complex challenge of managing party and government. Finally, taking on one of the toughest portfolios in the current Government was something of a clincher for me. His instinct is to challenge himself, to serve and try and make a real difference in people’s lives.

These are challenging times for our country and we need to restore faith that improving people’s lives is our guiding principle and hope that the party which rebuilt the economy can now rebuild our society.

The last 10 days have been an adrenaline shot straight to the heart of Fine Gael and, for that, we as a party must be grateful. We are on the verge of a new start for our party and are fortunate to have candidates of real calibre and quality who will take the party forward and make it stronger. I have made my choice and others have made theirs, and for reasons that all will stand over with conviction. But come Saturday morning, we are all one Fine Gael again. United in our passion for our party delivering for our people and emboldened in our ambitions for what our country can achieve.

Simon Harris is Minister for Health.

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