Republic of Ireland news

Taoiseach slams Sinn Féin plan for no-confidence motion against Simon Coveney

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney
Cate McCurry, PA

The Taoiseach has criticised Sinn Féin’s plan to table a motion of no-confidence against Simon Coveney in the Dail next week as “old-style naked opposition”.

Micheál Martin said it is a “bit rich” for the party to criticise the Foreign Affairs Minister on the issue of cronyism, citing the number of former members it has appointed to positions in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy confirmed today that the party will table a motion of no confidence, saying the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a UN special envoy amounted to “blatant cronyism”.

He said the party took the decision because the taoiseach did not sanction his Cabinet colleague over the crisis.

Mr Martin said there needs to be “perspective and balance” over the issue, adding that sacking Mr Coveney over the appointment would not be “proportionate or balanced”.

“I think it’s old-style naked opposition politics that Sinn Féin are at here,” he told RTÉ Morning Ireland.

“Let’s be under no illusion – it’s an attempt to divide and conquer, and it’s a bit rich for Sinn Féin to be putting down a vote of no confidence on the issue of cronyism. One only has to look at how they performed in government – wholesale appointment of past ministers and former members.

“In terms of the Simon Coveney and the appointment of Katherine Zappone, I said that was wrong and I made that point and Simon Coveney has apologised to me.

“He’s gone before the Oireachtas committee twice and faced questions on that and has apologised to the Oireachtas committee.

“Right now he’s involved with the Security Council, we have significant issues in Northern Ireland in the context of the Protocol, and we have Brexit.

“We need experience in that portfolio and, in my view, there needs to be, as I said, consistently from the outset, perspective and balance here.

“Are we seriously suggesting that the appointment of a part-time envoy in itself justifies a vote of no confidence in the minister? I think that’s not proportionate or balanced.

“I do not believe this is an issue that merits the removal of a minister in terms of the appointment of a part-time employee. I just simply do not believe that that would be a proportionate response.”

Mr Martin also said he expects his TDs to vote against the motion.

This week Mr Coveney apologised to an Oireachtas committee for his “sloppiness” in addressing questions about the appointment of Ms Zappone to the UN role, admitting that it had caused a “political embarrassment” for the government.

His assertion that he had not offered Ms Zappone a job but that she mistakenly believed she had been offered one in March, months before the Cabinet was made aware, has been widely criticised.

Sinn Féin said the appointment process did not meet the standards expected of a government minister.

Donnchadh O Laoghaire said the party is tabling the motion because of the "failure of the Taoiseach to act".

"He himself has accepted that what Simon Coveney did was wrong, the process was wrong, but he has refused to act on that," the Sinn Féin TD said.

"For Micheal Martin, Simon Coveney is in too strong a position, politically, for him to move despite the fact that the actions he is responsible for are more than worthy for a Taoiseach taking action against him.

"I know there is a very broad view in these institutions that the motion is appropriate, it is timely and it is necessary and that goes far beyond Sinn Féin.

"I would say there are those in the Government party that, in their heart of hearts , believe that what Simon Coveney did was wrong and was an example of cronyism."

The motion is set to take place next Wednesday.

Sinn Féin has come in for criticism for appointments the party has made to bodies in the past.

Mr O Laoghaire admitted that he was not "familiar" with the background and experience of some of his colleagues, including senator Lynn Boylan and Padraig Mac Lochlainn, who were promoted to cross-border bodies.

Ms Boylan was previously appointed to the board of Safe Food Ireland and Mr Mac Lochlainn previously worked on the board of Intertrade Ireland.

"I suppose the key issue here is that north-south appointments are not made up jobs. Nobody went to the North-South Ministerial Council and asked them to make up these jobs.

"In fact they were positions that were created under the auspices of an international treaty, the Good Friday Agreement."

Today, Fine Gael junior minister Colm Brophy defended Mr Coveney and accused Sinn Féin of engaging in a “political stunt”.

“I don’t actually believe Sinn Féin think Simon Coveney should resign,” he said.

He said Fine Gael had acknowledged that it had made mistakes in the appointment of Ms Zappone.

“It is not going ahead now,” he added.

“The minister has apologised, he has went back into the committee on two occasions,” Mr Brophy told RTE radio.

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said his party would back a no-confidence motion.

“As an opposition party, we don’t have confidence in the Government.”

He added that Fine Gael is trying to “blame others” for the party’s mistakes in the handling of the Zappone controversy.

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