Coveney no-confidence debate gave scant attention to Zappone saga

Facts of the case are ignored as Dáil drama redraws dividing lines of Irish politics

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has survived a Dáil motion of no confidence by 92 votes to 59. In a speech prior to the vote Coveney lashed out at Sinn Féin, accusing the party of "reinforcing a false narrative of cronyism."

 

Fine Gael rallied its troops to mount a stirring defence of the beleaguered Simon Coveney in the face of fierce attacks from Sinn Féin as the Dáil rejected a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Foreign Affairs by a fair margin.

Back in the Dáil chamber at Leinster House after a lengthy exile at the Convention Centre Dublin, TDs returned to an atmosphere that curdled quickly into bitter, partisan, personal acrimony.

As expected Sinn Féin led the charge against Coveney, piling on the accusations and invective. Fine Gael returned it all with interest, questioning the probity, integrity, honesty and motives of their opponents.

Mary Lou McDonald described a “toxic culture . . . in government” and a “rotten way of doing business that has robbed so many of a decent life”.

“You can have the past. That belongs to you. But the future belongs to the ordinary people of this country,” she thundered.

Perhaps she really meant: it belongs to Sinn Féin. It was good, tub-thumping rhetoric. And it terrifies the Government benches.

Fine Gael rose to the challenge, trading insults and barbs, charges and accusations across the chamber. “The Sinn Féin mask slips,” several Fine Gaelers asserted. (They meant it metaphorically, but it was true literally.) Speaker after speaker assailed Sinn Féin. Neale Richmond castigated them for “duplicity, contradictions and sneering” from a party that had “tried to pull down the State”.

The motion did what confidence motions always do: it rallied the troops.

Awkward position

For Fianna Fáil, things were rather more awkward. Micheál Martin defended Coveney, of course, appealing for a sense of “proportion”. The Taoiseach did not reveal his emotions on hearing Marc MacSharry had resigned the party whip, though he must have been relieved when Barry Cowen told the chamber he would support the Government. Powder kept dry. Several Independents rowed in behind Coveney and the Coalition, demonstrating the Government’s majority is bigger than it looks.

The facts of the saga received scant attention, being of little use to both sides. But that is not what Wednesday night was about. It was about – after a period in which political division was minimised because of Covid – redrawing the dividing lines of politics. It was about Sinn Féin sharpening its blade – the elites versus the people, the insiders versus the outsiders – and the Coalition toughening up to resist its swipes, seeking to draw focus towards the issues they say people care about: health, housing, quality of life. There was no doubt who emerged happiest: the Government is bruised, and as the new Dáil term begins, Sinn Féin has given the Coalition – with its assistance – a good kicking.

So as Covid recedes, welcome to the new politics. Quite like the old politics. Likely to be shouty, scratchy and definitely not dull.

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