Europe

Simon Coveney appointed as new Irish foreign minister

Simon Coveney Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Simon Coveney has been an elected politician for almost 20 years

Simon Coveney has been appointed as the Irish minister for foreign affairs and trade, with special responsibility for the government's response to Brexit.

He was nominated for the post by the new Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar, who appointed his cabinet on Wednesday, his first day in power.

Mr Coveney was Mr Varadkar's rival in a party leadership contest earlier this month, but lost with 40% of the vote.

He tweeted he was "proud" to accept the foreign ministry and Brexit roles.

Announcing the appointment, Mr Varadkar said: "We face enormous challenges in foreign policy as relationships on this island, between these islands and across Europe change."

The taoiseach has tasked Mr Coveney to "work towards re-establishing devolved government in Northern Ireland" and "securing the best possible deal for Ireland on Brexit".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Leo Varadkar was congratulated by Simon Coveney after winning the Fine Gael leadership contest on 3 June

Mr Coveney replaces Charlie Flanagan, who had been Irish minister for foreign affairs and trade since July 2014.

Mr Flanagan had been heavily involved in negotiations at Stormont over the past three years and his departure as foreign minister comes at a time of great uncertainty for Northern Ireland's political institutions.

Stormont's devolved government collapsed in January when the late Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin resigned in protest at the Democratic Unionist Party's handling of a green energy scandal.

Mr Flanagan is moving to the justice ministry, replacing Francis Fitzgerald, who has been appointed as minister for enterprise.

Image copyright Irish Govenment News Service
Image caption The new cabinet received their seals of office from the Irish president on Wednesday

Mrs Fitzgerald remains in her role as tánaiste (Irish deputy prime minister), while Mr Coveney has been named as deputy leader of the Fine Gael party.

'Trust'

Writing on his Twitter account, Mr Coveney, said there were "huge challenges" ahead in his new ministry but added he was "looking forward to it".

The politician first won a seat in the Dáil (Irish Parliament) almost 20 years ago and has been a government minister for the last six years.

Most recently, he served as housing minister and before that he held the agricultural portfolio.

Five years ago, Mr Coveney became the first Irish government minister to attend and address a DUP conference.

He was a keynote speaker at the event in November 2012.

"I hope we can develop the kind of friendship and kind of trust politically that's needed between the largest party in Northern Ireland and the largest party in the Republic of Ireland," he said at the time.

"This is another step in that direction."

The 44-year-old Corkman is married with three children.

Expelled

He was educated at the exclusive Clongowes Wood boarding school in County Kildare, which has produced a number of high-profile Irish politicians and writers.

However, as a teenager, he was expelled from the school for drinking alcohol and bunking off lessons to attend a beach party.

In a candid interview with broadcaster RTÉ, he revealed he had suffered from a stutter when he was younger, and lived in the shadow of his more promising brother, who is now a successful businessman.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Coveney has been a government minister for the past six years

He went on to study management at the Royal Agricultural College in Gloucestershire, England, before his election as the youngest member of the Dáil in 1998, in a by-election caused by the death of his father.

Mr Coveney remained in the Dáil until 2004, when he was elected to the European Parliament.

Returning to the Dáil in 2007, he was appointed agriculture minister in 2011 and responsibility for defence was added to his portfolio three years later.

He had made no secret of his desire to lead the Fine Gael party and in contrast to Mr Varadkar, he was seen as the more centre-left candidate in the recent leadership contest.

When RTÉ asked the question about his intentions some years ago, he said: "I am very ambitious, so the straight answer is yes, some day."

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