By Patrick Brogan
I was going to title to this Simon Coveney; The Man, the Myth, the Legend. Coveney isn’t that type of person though. This is not to say he is boring. That’s something many journalists have accused him of being. This is unfair. Coveney is measured, stable. Not bad attributes to have if you want to become the most high-profile politician in the country. Up to this point, he has had a fairly interesting life.
He is quite the rebel, actually. This started back in his formative years. He was expelled from Clongowes. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government said it was a bit of an over reaction from the head of the school. Coveney said he was asked back after the event.
He attended UCC in Cork, Gurteen Agricultural College in Tipperary and had a stint at university in England. He also worked on a farm in Cork, so that should come in useful when trying to get the farming vote. The Coveney siblings decided they wanted a challenge before settling into careers. They set sail around the world for charity. They knew Adi Roche, so it was decided the proceeds should go to the Chernobyl Children’s Project. Simon and co sailed across the Atlantic and through the Panama Canal. When they were in the Galapagos Island, disaster struck. Not there, but at home, in Cork. Their father had just died. He drowned after a fall while out walking his dogs.
The Heir Apparent
A typical practice in Irish politics is the son or daughter take over the seat their parents have left. The Coveneys are no different. Simon took over the deceased Hugh’s seat. Simon was elected to the Dáil in 1998. It’s important to look back at the father’s career because without his untimely death the son may have gone down a different route. And more importantly, given the fact he might be leader of this country in just a few weeks, it is important to scrutinise his ties to the elite. His father certainly went down this road.
Who was Hugh Coveney?
Hugh was born into a rich and powerful family in Cork. I’m going to skip over a lot of the preamble here and get to the controversial stuff which, deep down, is what you wanted. Before we get into Hugh Coveney, it is important to know who Des Traynor is first. Traynor was an accountant and financial adviser. He started his career with Haughey and Boland Accountants. The Haughey in that name is Charles Haughey and it is not the last time these two would have dealings. Traynor was often described as Haughey’s “bag man”.
He would go on to work for Cement Roadstone Holdings plc (CRH). With his help, CRH became one of the biggest building material suppliers in the world. Controversy was never far away though. In nearly every country they operated in they were accused of creating a cartel. They were also accused, and found guilty, of paying off politicians, including in Ireland.
This was one of the biggest scandals in the history of the Irish State. Ansbacher was a bank run by Traynor from his CRH office in Dublin. This involved many businessmen and politicians putting money in an offshore account in the Cayman Islands. It was done through a complex serious of transactions to throw the authorities off the scent. Many politicians were caught up in this scandal, including Charlie Haughey and Michael Lowry. So was Hugh Coveney.
While he initially denied having any involvement with Ansbacher, he did admit that he had dealings with Des Traynor through a property development investment in the US. Simon Coveney also said his father never had an Ansbacher account. It later he turned out he did for much of the 1970s. Oops.
Like Father, Like Son
It may seem very unfair fair to bring all this up. How much the two Coveneys knew about this account can be debated. It is possible Traynor never told Hugh where the money was going. Is it likely though? I’m extremely sceptical of politicians playing dumb, especially when so many of them, and businessmen too, were involved in Ansbacher. Surely some of them must have known and word would have spread. This is conjecture, though.
The fact remains, Hugh Coveney came from a rich family and his political career was closely aligned and tied up to the social elite. And Simon, who worked on his father’s campaigns, would be well aware of this. Does the son operate in the same manner?
Yes, and on a bigger scale. He attended the Bilderberg Group Meeting in Copenhagen. Now, before people think I’m going to start talking about black masses and satanic rituals, relax. I’m not. I am concerned about the secretive nature of these meetings, however. These meetings use the Chatham Houses Rules, which means what has been said may be indirectly quoted, but the source cannot be named. When Coveney attended, he was filmed walking about the streets with none other than Peter Sutherland, the chairman of Goldman Sachs at that time. You know the bank that helped create the financial crash? So Coveney didn’t learn from his father’s mistake of getting too close to the mega rich it would seem. Just to give you an idea how secretive these meetings are, look at the two Irishmen together being asked questions about what was discussed in Copenhagen (featured image also comes from this video);
Does Simon Coveney have other links to businessmen? Yes. Yes, he does. His older brother Patrick is top dog at Greencore, an international food company. Reports said the elder Coveney earned as much as €6.3 million pre-tax back in 2014. Wowsers. Greencore was not immune from controversy, either. Charlie Haughey lied to the Dáil about Pat O’Connor and Dermot Desmond being on the board of the Greencore privatisation. Desmond later made millions from selling his shares in Greencore over a decade later. Bloody Haughey again.
This is all ancient history, but even in Patrick Coveney’s time, there have been issues. Firstly, workers at their English plants came over to the Dublin headquarters to protest about pay and working conditions. Then there was a media fallout after Greencore was given government funding to create jobs in Northampton and then went on to employ staff over in Hungary. This doesn’t seem to have made a difference on profits. Greencore estimates a revenue of €1.6 billion for the first half of this year. Greencore is a company that deals with food while the brother was the Minister for Agriculture. Surely there is a conflict of interest here.
Simon Coveney has strong European credentials. He was an MEP from 2004-2007. In that time, he “was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee. Simon was the author of the European Parliament’s Annual Report on Human Rights in the World for the year 2004 and again for 2006”, as stated on his website. So he certainly knows his way around Brussels and he would have rubbed shoulders with the top brass when over there. This certainly is a huge advantage he has over his party leader rivals.
This really is his Waterloo. Now, he did walk into a crisis, but with his handling of this, he made it much worse. Consider the debacle surrounding Home Sweet Home. The ordinary Irish citizens gave him a viable, and cheap, solution. It didn’t necessarily have to be at Apollo House, neither. Look at all the disused houses and other buildings in the country. The problem could have been solved and it was handed on a plate to him and his Government. Why did he reject it?
My own suspicion is this has more to do with power than effectively running the country. The Government didn’t want people doing this for themselves because once that happens people tend to question whether they need politicians at all. They don’t want the people getting notions.
Not only has he overlooked this, but it appears his department either lied or cannot add up figures. Last month it came to light that Coveney’s department figures on housing completion are way off when compared to what the Central Statics Office (CSO) released. The Department for Housing, Planning and Local Governments said there were 15,000 houses built last year, as opposed to the CSO‘s 7,500, exactly half. Housing is a critical issue, nearly every town and certainly the cities have seen a huge increase in homelessness and families struggling for affordable housing. To turn this into a political football is outrageous.
To Sum Up
To brand him as boring is a tad unfair, especially when you look back at all he has achieved. He has a formidable CV and has all the right connections. Ambition is certainly not lacking, he was involved in ‘heaves’ against the last two party leaders. He is from Cork, one of the most populated counties, and his farming background should see him get the rural vote. If the Bilderberg rumours are to be believed, they are grooming him for the highest office in the land.
In a nutshell, that is the problem. Too much of Irish politics is based on the concentration of power for politicians and businessmen. From looking at Coveney’s background, this will continue or may even get worse. Fine Gael is Ireland’s fascist party and Coveney’s attitude towards power would see him as a fitting leader. Also, his many monied connections should make us deeply sceptical. I think he’ll be leader of this country in a few weeks, but having people like him in power is the last thing we need as a nation. We need fresh ideas and imagination. Coveney definitely doesn’t fall into that category, nor does anyone else from his party.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know your thoughts. Feel free to subscribe or join the debate on;