Irish foreign minister Coveney survives Sinn Fein no confidence motion

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Simon Coveney

Q Radio News/PA

Simon Coveney has survived a confidence motion, with 92 TDs voting in favour of the minister to 59 against.

Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister comfortably won the motion with all attending Government party TDs voting in favour of the Fine Gael minister.

He also received the support of 12 independents.

Mr Coveney said he “should have and could have dealt with” controversy around the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a special envoy “much more comprehensively in early August”.

Speaking in the Dail as TDs debated confidence in him, Mr Coveney said he had not taken the issue seriously enough and was “too defensive” in interviews.

“I allowed speculation to drift into a political narrative that does not reflect the truth of what actually happened,” he said.

“I regret this issue has distracted from the important work that we’ve been trying to do and for the mistake made by me in advance of the cabinet decision, and subsequently in terms of not clearing these issues up earlier.

“I’ve apologised to the Taoiseach and my colleagues, and I do so again this evening to everybody in this house.”

Leo Varadkar - defended Coveney 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar accused Sinn Fein, who tabled the motion of no confidence, of attempting to “hound a decent man out of office for cheap publicity”.

He said it was an “honour to express my full confidence in my friend and colleague Simon Coveney”, adding he “knows nobody more committed to public service than he”.

Mr Varadkar said Mr Coveney “made mistakes when it came to the appointment of Katherine Zappone as special envoy”.

“He and I have acknowledged and apologised for our mistakes in that regard,” he said.

However, he stressed “the need for balance”, paying tribute to Mr Coveney’s work on the New Decade New Approach deal in January 2020 which led to the restoration of the Stormont Assembly.

“Without him, Michelle O’Neill would not be the deputy First Minister today and there would not be an Executive in Northern Ireland, he put back together the Executive Sinn Fein collapsed in a tactical act of arrogance leaving Northern Ireland without a voice for three years during the Brexit negotiations,” he said.

“Sinn Fein knows the work that he put in to ensure there was no hard border in Ireland yet they seek tonight to hound an honourable man out of office for cheap publicity and political gain.”

Mary Lou McDonald - Dail defeat 

Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald said they were acting against “the culture of cronyism at the very heart of this government”.

She said the motion was brought “because the Taoiseach refuses to do his job, he refuses to hold Minister Simon Coveney to account”.

Ms McDonald claimed Mr Coveney “sought to make up a job for a friend and a former colleague, and when caught red-handed he went about covering his tracks”.

“This is by any standard an abuse of office and Sinn Fein was left with no option but to move a no-confidence motion,” she said.

She accused Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party “to cast this fiasco as a non-issue”.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin accused Sinn Fein of tabling the motion to get publicity and deliver “populist partisan attacks”.

Mr Martin said there was “no question or debate” about the substantive issues in the Zappone controversy.

“They are uncontested,” he said.

“The position involved was intended to be part-time and awarded no permanent benefits to anyone.

“There is no allegation of a benefit being sought for or conferred on any office holder, and ultimately as we know, no-one was appointed to the role.

“However, as I stress from the beginning, there is an important matter and it is a perfect perfectly legitimate issue of public concern.

“The creation of this role and the attempt to appoint an individual to it was handled carelessly and badly.”

His remarks come after Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry resigned from the parliamentary party ahead of the confidence vote. Mr MacSharry voted no confidence in Mr Coveney.

In his letter of resignation to Mr Martin and party colleagues, the TD said voting intentions has been “dictated” by Government without debate and input from Fianna Fail parliamentary party members.

“I was elected to serve a democratic republic, not one which applies different rules and sanctions depending on the identity or the position of people involved,” Mr MacSharry said.

He cited a series of recent controversies, including leaks from Cabinet meetings, Merriongate and the ongoing saga around Katherine Zappone.

He said he was left with “no option” but to resign the party whip.

In the letter he also said: “(The) Fianna Fail positioning and policy are being determined in a fashion consistent with an undemocratic totalitarian regime rather than that of a democratic socialist republican party of and for the people.”

In a statement, Mr Martin said: “The Taoiseach regrets the resignation and wishes Marc well.”

Earlier, it was confirmed that former government minister Ms Zappone is to be invited to appear before an Oireachtas committee about the controversy surrounding her appointment.

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