Fianna Fáil TDs who fail to vote confidence in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will face a six-month suspension from the parliamentary party, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed on Friday.
Speaking at the Fianna Fáil think-in in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, Mr Martin said the automatic sanction would apply to any TD who failed to support the Government in the vote of confidence in Mr Coveney, expected when the Dáil returns next week.
Many Fianna Fáil TDs are unhappy about the prospect of voting confidence in Mr Coveney, though most agree they will have to support the Government.
Kilkenny TD John McGuinness, however, who has been a persistent critic of Mr Martin's leadership, said on Friday he had not decided how to vote.
The motion of no-confidence in Mr Coveney, promised by Sinn Féin, means that the Dáil will return next week to an immediately antagonistic and partisan atmosphere. The last no-confidence motion, in Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last year, saw bitter and personalised exchanges, especially between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin Deputies.
The Labour Party has said it would support a motion of no confidence in Mr Coveney if one was tabled in the Dáil, as did the Social Democrats.
A Green spokesman said that all TDs will be expected to vote in favour of the Government.
The controversy over the abandoned appointment of Katherine Zappone to a UN special envoy role by Mr Coveney was a recurring theme at Fianna Fáil's meeting, with a number of TDs taking issue with what they perceived to be the Taoiseach's downplaying of the issue.
Speaking to the media, Mr Martin argued that the forced resignation of Mr Coveney would have consequences for Ireland’s membership of the UN Security Council during a critical month in which the State takes the presidency.
Asked if this meant that Mr Coveney was “too big to fail”, Mr Martin said this was not the case, but added: “A lot of work has gone in [to securing a place on the UN Security Council]. He is an experienced foreign minister.”
He said: “The consequences [of Mr Coveney’s resignation] would be that we would lose a person of experience right now when he is needed on significant issues like Afghanistan.”
Mr Martin repeatedly criticised the Sinn Féin threat of a motion as a “classic opposition manoeuvre”, and said the party was no stranger to cronyism itself. He also contended that the controversy had been blown out of proportion.