Simon Harris may lodge complaint over Sinn Féin TD’s allegations

Minister says claims he was behind Cabinet leak was ‘misuse of Dáil privilege’

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris during a visit to Technological University Dublin on Thursday.  Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris during a visit to Technological University Dublin on Thursday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris is likely to make a detailed complaint over how he was named under Dáil privilege as leaking information from Cabinet, which he has strongly denied, it is understood.

During a confidence motion in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Wednesday evening, prompted by the appointment of former cabinet minister Katherine Zappone as a UN envoy, Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy claimed that “Simon Harris had leaked the appointment from the Cabinet meeting because that is how business is done”.

It is understood Mr Harris is likely to make a detailed complaint to the Dáil committee on procedures and privileges, chaired by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, seeking that the Oireachtas address the issue.

Asked if he was responsible for the leak, the Minister told reporters at the Technological University Dublin: “No, I’m not – and what happened yesterday was an extraordinary misuse of Dáil privilege.”

His party leader, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, also said he hoped the committee would examine the matter. Mr Varadkar also said he has no evidence the leak came from a Cabinet member.

Mr Carthy defended his use of parliamentary privilege during an interview on RTÉ News on Thursday.

Evidence

However, when asked if he had evidence to back up his allegation, he said “no”.

He then added:“Because I didn’t carry out the sting operation, Fine Gael did.”

Mr Carthy said his claims were based on “general knowledge and generally accepted knowledge” around Leinster House.

Standing over his statement, he insisted his actions in the Dáil were “entirely consistent with the principle and reason why parliamentary privilege is in place”.

Asked why he didn’t make a complaint to An Garda Síochána over his claim, he said: “Because I haven’t got the basis of the evidence, because that evidence is in the hands of Fine Gael and I would encourage them to do so.”

Following the interview, Mr Harris said: “Dáil privilege is there for a reason, it’s certainly not there to engage in tittle tattle... Deputy Carthy said he was repeating what he believes to be general knowledge. He was making a very serious charge on the record of the House in the absence of my presence there. It was untrue and it was a misuse of Dáil privilege.”

He said Mr Carthy “made comments that if they were said outside [the Dáil] would be defamatory”.

Assertion

Asked if he would challenge Mr Carthy to repeat the assertion outside the Dáil, he said he “has other things to be doing... let’s get on with it”, and criticised Sinn Féin for how it had used parliamentary privilege.

Mr Harris added that it was matter for the Taoiseach to decide whether to investigate the leak.

He disputed the suggestion there had been a “sting operation”, and said he had not been party to one.

Asked specifically if he had been questioned by the Tánaiste in relation to such an operation, he said he had not. He also suggested that the substance of the supposed sting, whereby a senior Minister was allegedly fed an untrue story about a junior colleague, which in turn prompted media inquiries to that colleague, did not necessarily provide a link to any leak from Cabinet.

“Conflating stories... with very serious matters in relation to the leaking of information from Cabinet, is an unfair and untrue conflation,” he said.