Belfast Telegraph

Simon Coveney no stranger to adversity despite life of privilege

Simon Coveney has lived a life of privilege, but is no stranger to adversity.

The son of a former government minister and businessman Hugh Coveney, he was dispatched at an early age to board at one of Ireland's most prestigious schools.

The Jesuit-run Clongowes Wood College in Co Kildare commands hefty fees for its reputation as a factory for future chief executives, political leaders and lawyers. Past pupils include Ryanair supremo Michael O'Leary, paper and packaging tycoon Michael Smurfit and former U2 manager Paul McGuinness.

But academic life was far from plain sailing for the experienced yachtsman.

A debilitating stutter and the long shadow of his overachieving eldest brother Patrick exacerbated the usual teenage frustrations.

In a radio interview, he admitted he "went off the rails" in the prestigious college and was expelled after running away to a beach party he had organised in Dublin Bay that no-one turned up to.

He had earlier been suspended for drinking.

But the eldest of seven, Patrick, now chief executive of the world's biggest sandwich maker Greencore, believes their father's tragic and untimely death turned Simon into a "real man overnight".

Hugh drowned after falling from a great height while walking his dogs along a cliff path in Robert's Cove in Co Cork, not far from the 350-acre family farm at Minane Bridge, in March 1998.

At the time, Simon, then aged 25, and four other siblings were in the Galapagos Islands, having crossed the Atlantic in the family yacht, Golden Apple, as part of a round-the-world sailing trip.

"It was a real watershed in my life," he later acknowledged.

After returning home, he won a by-election to fill his late father's seat.

Seemingly forsaking a life in agriculture - he took his degree in Agriculture and Land Management from The Royal Agriculture College in Gloucestershire after completing his secondary education in Cork - he quickly rose through the ranks of Fine Gael.

Stints followed as both a councillor and MEP.

His farming background stood him in good stead, when Fine Gael and Labour swept to power in 2011, and he was offered the post of Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Defence was later added to the portfolio.

Last year, he was handed the poisoned chalice of Housing Minister during an ongoing homelessness crisis.

Simon married Ruth Forney, an executive at the State investment agency IDA, in 2008 and they have three daughters.

His supporters like to describe him as a family man.

Just two years ago, he said his views on same-sex marriage had changed after a ten-year "journey" as he lent his voice to the groundswell of Irish backing for gay equality in a referendum.

But his social conservatism has seen him questioning the recommendations of a Citizen's Assembly this year, which found unrestricted abortion should be made available in Ireland up to 12 weeks.

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