Coveney’s scrupulous sense of fair play is widely acknowledged

While TD is considered measured, he is also seen as very engaging on one-to-one basis

Feisty is not exactly the quality most would associate with would-be Fine Gael leader Simon Coveney, but according to some who played rugby with him with Crosshaven RFC in the Munster Junior League feisty is exactly what their lanky second row was all about.

Former Crosshaven scrum-half, Paul Cogan recalls a game against Kanturk on a grim winter’s day around 2004 when some of the home side started to get a little too physical with the Crosshaven centre, Andrew Coveney, only for his older brother to intervene.

“Simon decided it was time to stand up for his brother and a punch-up ensued – Simon wasn’t the captain but he was the pack leader on the pitch, and he was feisty, he would always stand up for you,” recalls Cogan.

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Coveney was then an MEP in Strasbourg. Crosshaven usually trained on a Thursday night, but such was his influence that they switched their training to Friday night to accommodate him after he would catch a late-night flight back to Cork on Thursday.

“He was a good lineout operator – he would take control of the whole thing – he was a real leader. Any quick penalty, he was always first up, ball in hand, wanting to get into contact. I suppose the day job was pressurised, so the rugby gave him a chance to let off some of that aggression.”

This picture painted of Coveney does not sit easily with the more general perception that he is measured and cautious – to the point of almost dullness, in the eyes of some – but, according to Coveney loyalist Cllr John Collins from Carrigaline, the media portrayal is not always accurate.

“I know his personality, and his height can be a bit daunting for some people. In the media he is always very measured, but he’s very engaging with people – he reminds me a bit of Enda who can seem detached at times but is very good on a one-to-one basis. Simon is the same.”

Pension problem

During the last election campaign Coveney spent 40 minutes with a man who had a problem with his pension. His handlers were not happy, but Coveney was insistent. The problem had to be sorted. It was.

The image of Coveney as a constituency-focused TD is one that would surprise many who served with him when he was first elected to Cork County Council in 1999. Looking back, one shrewd Fianna Fáiler of the time admits that Coveney’s approach often left him perplexed.

“I would have considered that he was very slow to pick things up. Now, maybe, he was being cautious, but it seemed that he wasn’t that sharp on stuff – it was a slow learning curve for him but he’s come on leaps and bounds since then.

“He didn’t seemed very engaged on things – he would not have been impressive as a councillor and he didn’t get close with council officials. Not that he took them on either, but he would have been very cautious on everything. To be honest, I thought he was ill-suited to the job.”

However, Coveney never pulled “strokes”, he said. “You could spend 12 months trying to get a road tarred for someone and then some cute hoor would ring them up and claim the credit for getting it done. But it could have been tarred a month and Simon wouldn’t have known it, let alone claim credit for it.”

That scrupulous sense of fair play is acknowledged by Fine Gael rivals. Some in the camp of constituency colleague Jerry Buttimer might complain that Coveney brings considerable financial resources to his campaign, but they admit that he has always abided by HQ rules on canvassing.

Quick learner

One former Fine Gael Oireachtas member remembers Coveney as being rather ponderous and nervous when first elected after his father Hugh’s death in 1998. However, the inhibitions have long since been left behind.

“But he was a quick learner, and his performances in recent years have been very assured....Of course, the media could cause him difficulties in working class areas because of his background, but I actually think he has a very strong social conscience,” said the source.

However, another Cork City Fine Gaeler argues that Coveney, because of his privileged upbringing, has a natural confidence if not arrogance that comes with his class. Perhaps, paradoxically, it is a background that enables him to see everyone as equals.

“Of course, his background is privileged, but this being Cork the whole merchant prince thing may actually be a bonus when it comes to Fine Gael voters. The general membership of the party here love him and have great regard for him, especially as he’s so accessible.”

While Coveney is measured and controlled, he can be determined or stubborn if he does not get his way. While he may not explode into anger, he can vent his frustration.

“He’s passive/aggressive, he will go all quiet and methodical but you know he is pissed off,” said one source.

Profile and position

Locally he has not turned his home town of Carrigaline into an electoral fortress.”Michael McGrath cleans him out in Carrigaline, and that shouldn’t be happening given the profile and the position he has,” says another source.

However, locals acknowledge that he has done his best to promote and develop Cork even if the results have yet to materialise.

“He hitched his star to the events centre in a very public way and that hasn’t happened yet, but that’s not his fault. And he was right to take the lead in the cleanup of Haulbowline and the development of the docklands, and to push for investment in infrastructure like the Dunkettle Interchange,” said one local.