Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney

STRANGELY, THERE was no loud indignation from Fine Gael ministers or TDs on the day that Sinn Féin TD, Brian Stanley tweeted about Leo Varadkar’s Tory-like opposition to workers pay rises compared to his support for social reform.

Why not? Vlad had been elected as FG leader that day in June, 2017 while Stanley was at that stage a six-years long TD and SF spokesperson on communications and climate change.

The reason is that it would have been virtually impossible for Blueshirt politicians to cry foul for any gay taunts against Vlad — real, perceived or imagined — at the time as the only quarters from which such comments came from were within losing leadership candidate, Simon Coveney’s support base.

As early as May 20, the Irish Times put it to Varadkar that there was a “behind-the-scenes whispering” campaign “about his personal life at play in the leadership campaign about which Vlad said he was unaware. “I hope not. People know about my personal life, it’s not a secret anymore.

“I don’t think it’s particularly relevant. I obviously have a family I’m very close to and a partner of almost two years now. I don’t like my job, my politics, to intrude on their lives”, Vlad responded, a tad defensively at the time to the ‘whispers’ about his personal life emanating from his own party.

Even earlier in the contest The Phoenix reported (see edition, 7/4/17) that “If Simon comes over all patrician and gentlemanly compared to Vlad, the brash blow-in with no political scruples, not all Coveney’s supporters are playing by Queensberry rules. Nobody’s finger prints have been found on the spate of stories and photos depicting Mr and Mrs Coveney as compared to gay bachelor Vlad, but some Coveney fans have begun to target Varadkar’s alleged personality traits”.

On May 22, eleven days before the vote, the Irish Independent published an interview and a double, colour-photo splash with Simon and wife Ruth with their children prominently displayed. The interview concentrated on Simon the family man who, just before the all-holds barred interview, “had raced home ahead to their comfortable old farmhouse, around which Carrigaline sprang up, to tidy up camogie gear after his daughters’ morning training session”.

The lengthy interview also told of how Simon played with his children and provided examples of his domesticity from painting with the kids to shopping and even cooking. “When he’s home he’s very hands on”, said Ruth, loyally. The Coveneys have a variety of pet animals, the interview revealed breathlessly and “We’d have 10 more animals if we could, grins the Housing Minister. It’s one of the things we’re about as a family”, emphasised Coveney, sounding like the head of the Walton’s household.

A week later, with Coveney’s prospects looking decidedly grim,  former health minister, then senator, James Reilly, made a pointed speech alongside Coveney in Cavan. As Goldhawk reported (see edition, 2/6/17), Bottler said that Simon “understands what it means to rear a young family”. Whoa! Reilly went on to repeat the same laudatory message in other comments about Simon’s awareness of the cost of child care and the struggles that families have; unlike others, one supposes).

“Another Coveney supporter, the then TD, Maria Bailey, spoke also at that meeting about how Simon’s wife, Ruth Coveney, had told of Simon the husband and father of children and so on in family man remarks that were apparently made by several other Coveney fans in the Cavan audience… Meanwhile, Ruth was trotted out at a Coveney rally in Athlone the night before and pictured in glorious technicolour in The Irish Times last Saturday holding hands with her red-blooded family man”.

The Sunday Times reported that speaking immediately after Reilly at the Cavan meeting, Coveney praised him to the heavens: “I have huge admiration for James Reilly”, he said, among other complimentary remarks, which did not include any disassociation from the family man speech by Reilly.

The context of Stanley’s tweet was Varadkar’s Tory type economic policy, his infamous remark about those who get up early in the morning and the much vaunted social reform agenda of modern Fine Gael. What was the context of remarks about Coveney the family man as uttered by leading Blueshirts?

Can we expect the same quarter to burst into outraged indignation now that this line of political debate has been resurrected?  Perhaps not.