Bitter and personal exchanges as Coveney survives Dáil confidence vote

FF’s Marc MacSharry votes against his party, likening it to ‘undemocratic totalitarian regime’

Demonstrators at Leinster House on Wednesday, as  the Dáil returns after the summer break. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Demonstrators at Leinster House on Wednesday, as the Dáil returns after the summer break. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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The Government survived a bruising opening to the new Dáil term on Wednesday night when TDs voted confidence in the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, after a debate that was often bitter, fractious and personal.

The Government won the vote by 92 votes to 59, its majority bolstered significantly by the support of several Independent TDs.

But Fianna Fáil suffered the loss of the Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry, who announced his resignation from the parliamentary party hours before the debate and voted against the Government.

In his resignation letter Mr MacSharry, a longtime and vocal critic of party leader Micheál Martin, said that Fianna Fáil was behaving “in a fashion consistent with an undemocratic totalitarian regime rather than that of a democratic socialist republican party of and for the people”.

Abandoned appointment

The debate on the Sinn Féin no-confidence motion, prompted by the Government’s handling of the abandoned appointment of former minister Katherine Zappone as a UN special envoy, quickly became bitter and personal in tone, with Fine Gael and Sinn Féin TDs trading barbs and insults across the floor of the Dáil.

Sinn Féin TDs accused the Government of “cronyism” and “abuse of office”. During the debate, the Cavan-Monaghan TD Matt Carthy claimed it was Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris who leaked the proposed appointment of Ms Zappone during the Cabinet meeting in July.

A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said later “this was a clear misuse of Dáil privilege and it is untrue”.

Strong defence

Ministers and Government TDs conducted a strong defence of Mr Coveney, and a fierce counter-attack on Sinn Féin. The Taoiseach told the Dáil that Sinn Féin said it had brought the motion because the party was “not prepared to look the other way”. But he said “looking the other way” has been the “defining response for Sinn Féin in many more sinister issues” and he highlighted cases where the party appointed its own members to roles in office.

In comments echoed by many Fine Gael TDs, former minister Richard Bruton said Sinn Féin “seeks to destroy Simon Coveney’s career to create a political platform to attack every party that is part of this Government”.