Former tánaiste Simon Coveney will not stand in next general election

By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

Updated: 11.20am

Former tánaiste Simon Coveney has said he will not stand in the next general election.

The former minister said being elected for 26 years “has been the privilege of my life”.

“I will forever be grateful for the faith people in Cork South Central have put in me. Now is the right time for renewal in Fine Gael and for me to change direction,” he said in a statement on X.

He did not reveal what he would be doing instead, but said that he was to “step out of politics”.

“I’ve loved almost every day of public life. I’ve had opportunities in politics that I could never have dreamed possible before 1998; as a councillor, a TD, a minister and as a tánaiste.”

Mr Coveney stood aside as minister for enterprise in April as Simon Harris became Taoiseach and the new leader of Fine Gael.

“I wouldn’t be leaving if I didn’t believe the future was bright,” Mr Coveney said.

“Right across the country we saw new candidates emerge in the recent local elections. Our party is strong and ambitious, our new leader has brought an energy that is reinvigorating the organisation at every level.”

Mr Harris said of Mr Coveney that he was “not just a colleague, he is a friend”.

“He has served his constituency, his party and his country with distinction, most particularly his contribution to protecting our national interest during Brexit is an outstanding legacy.”

I've put my whole life into trying to be as good as I can be for the people that I'm responsible for serving

Speaking to Red FM on his decision not to contest the next election, Mr Coveney acknowledged he had once been “passionate” about becoming taoiseach.

“At one point in my career, I really wanted to do that.

“I was passionate about what I could do as a taoiseach in Ireland, but I've had extraordinary opportunities. I've had five or six different ministries in government, I've put my whole life into trying to be as good as I can be for the people that I'm responsible for serving.

“For me I think now is the right time to change direction, to look for new challenges in life and to facilitate renewal in the political party that I've been working with and in for the last 26 years.”

He said while his job has been stressful but incredibly rewarding.

“It's demanding, but I wouldn't have it any other way. When I stood for politics first, I made that decision at 25 after a tragedy in my family.

“I was very green, inexperienced. To be honest. I didn't really know what I was getting myself in for.

“I got elected initially on the back of a sympathy vote, I suspect, because my father had drowned tragically in Cork Harbour, and I'm sure there was a lot of sympathy for the family on the back of that.

“But since then, I hope I've earned my place in politics, in the Dáil, and in the European Parliament and around the Cabinet table, and I have worked every day and every hour that I can to try to improve the lives of people in Cork and Ireland.

“It's a job that has resulted in me travelling all over the world as a defence minister, as a foreign minister, as a trade minister, trying to learn from other countries so that we could apply better practice in Ireland.”

The important thing is that people remember me as somebody who was honest, I hope

Mr Coveney said he had enjoyed “virtually every day” of his political career, but believed it was now time for a change in direction in his life.

It was a decision that he had made, in consultation with his wife, which was why he had indicated he did not have any interest in the leadership of Fine Gael when Leo Varadkar resigned earlier this year.

Mr Coveney also stressed he is not retiring from politics due to the intimidation and negativity of commentary on social media.

He said it is time to make way for new talent in the party, adding he is looking for new horizons.

“For now, it's really just, for the first time in 26 years in my working life, since I was 25, I'm actually looking outside of politics and what I might be able to contribute.

“The important thing is that people remember me as somebody who was honest, I hope, as someone who worked incredibly hard for them, somebody who was in politics for the right reasons.

“I'm not somebody who goes after headlines or cheap shots, I don't crave publicity. I'm someone who wants society to change and move in the right direction, who wants Ireland to be a positive, progressive, ambitious country that's successful, that provides careers for young people as they grow up, that responds to social needs in terms of vulnerable people who need the intervention of government.

“I'm a big believer in that,” Mr Coveney added.

-Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke.