Nora Owen, Prof Michael Laffan, Madeline Taylor Quinn, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Simon Coveney (FG) has told supporters in Co Clare that Fine Gael must aim to dominate the centre of Irish politics.
Up to 100 people gathered in The Temple Gate Hotel as Minister Coveney, Professor Michael Laffan and former Minister for Justice, Nora Owen (FG) assessed the achievements of Cumann na nGaedhael from 1922 and 1932 and the foundation of the Irish Free State.
Addressing the crowd, Minister Coveney highlighted the need for the decade of centenaries to be “respectful and inclusive as it can possibly be” recounting “extraordinary moments of change for Ireland, moments of pain and tragedy for individuals and families”. 100 years on, he said the country was learning from its past and he referenced the acknowledgement of “giants in Irish history” such as the recent centenary commemoration of Michael Collins’ death at Béal na Bláth.
Looking at politics today, the Cork native said for Fine Gael “to thrive and survive, we need to become the trusted party that people turn to when it comes to election time”. Holding the role of Deputy Leader of the party is “a real privilege”, he admitted. “What drives the party today is not that inconsistent of what drove people during establishment of the State in that decade,” Coveney added and referenced the “unpopular decisions of 2011 which arrived following an extraordinary election where the country effectively voted for a national Government of Fine Gael and Labour to restore the country’s spirit and an economy which had been broken”.
There was a time during this economic crisis that the State came “within a month” of not being able to pay civil servants, he revealed. The first Cabinet meeting of Enda Kenny’s Government is still vivid in his mind with the then Taoiseach telling Ministers if they were not prepared to turn the numbers on youth unemployment, the national debt and emigration around that they should leave the room.
Brexit was handled by Fine Gael “with a toughness and an intelligence,” he believed. “If we got through it then we’d be able to show what we could do in Government but then came COVID,” he said. The six month period during the height of the pandemic where the Government only the support of a third of the Dáil was among his “proudest moments”. He added, “Fine Gael was happy to move into the opposition but there was no viable Government, this party made a decision based on what was the right thing to do for the country. We said to ourselves once we get through pandemic, we said we’d show what we could do, then comes the crisis in Ukraine. The last decade has been one crisis followed by another”.
He acknowledged, “we’ve made mistakes but I think we’ve got the big calls right”. Minister Coveney stated, “We are a party that can and will dominate the centre of Irish politics, we need to be a party for everybody and one that pulls society together rather than drive it apart”.
Ireland’s political landscape is “much more fractious and fractured” and it is one operating in a sphere where “trust is in short supply”. “We need to try insist that at the centre of Irish politics we are a force of unity and not division, that value that Fine Gael bring to politics will be tested over and over again,” he said.
Labels of Fine Gael being “conservative”, “stale” and “in Government for too long” were inaccurate, he insisted and he pointed to his 25 years in politics which have coincided with votes for same sex marriage, abortion, a separation of church and State, “we are outward and modern, we are facilitating change the whole time”.
Chair of Fine Gael’s Clare branch and former TD, Madeline Taylor-Quinn (FG) praised the Minister for “a most inspiring address” while a party supporter from Bodyke shared her pride at the “honesty and integrity” of the Deputy Leader.
Former councillor, Joe Arkins (FG) picked up on a comment by Minister Coveney that Sinn Féin weren’t “all bad” and the Ruan man asked him, “could he elucidate on their good points” leading to widespread laughter from Fine Gael supporters.
Historian Joe Power asked the Minister to expand on what he felt the differences were if any between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the present day. “There is still a difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael but because we’re in Government together I won’t say anything,” Coveney quipped.