Irish Cabinet clashes over Catalonia at heated meeting

Ministers agree police force was ‘excessive’ but strongly disagree on legitimacy of vote

There was a major row during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting over the Government response to the violent events surrounding the Catalonian independence referendum.

Independent Minister of State Finian McGrath demanded that the Government call in the Spanish ambassador to Ireland to convey condemnation of violence by Spanish police that left an estimated 900 people injured, according to the Catalan government.

It is understood Mr McGrath challenged Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to intervene directly with the ambassador. Both the Taoiseach and Mr Coveney refused to do so.

There were heated exchanges between Mr McGrath and other Ministers. His argument about the violence was strongly supported by his Independent colleague Shane Ross and by Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty.


All Ministers agreed that the violence of the Guardia Civil was inappropriate and excessive. The police had tried to prevent Catalans from voting at schools and other buildings that had been designated as voting centres.

However, according to sources with knowledge of the Cabinet meeting, Mr Varadkar is understood to have disagreed with an assertion that the result of the referendum was valid. Over 90 per cent of voters supported independence status for the region. His argument that it was not valid was made on the grounds that it was not held under Spanish law or under the constitution.

It is believed he told Mr McGrath he will discuss the excessive use of violence with Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy when next they meet, most likely at an EU Council meeting.

‘Appalling’ behaviour

Mr McGrath brought up the issue at the meeting after being asked to do so by Minister of State John Halligan. In an impassioned contribution he is understood to have said he had supported Catalonian independence for more than 20 years. He is said to have described the behaviour of the Spanish government as “appalling”.

While all Ministers agreed that the police force was excessive, among those who argued against Mr McGrath’s wider points on independence and on calling in the ambassador were Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

Mr Varadkar later told the Dáil he would raise the Catalan crisis with Mr Rajoy “when the opportunity is appropriate”.

He said the violence was “disproportionate and counterproductive” and dialogue was the only hope for resolution. But Mr Varadkar said the referendum was illegal under Spanish law.

The issue was also raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who pointed to a close connection between Fine Gael and Mr Rajoy’s ruling party. He asked Mr Varadkar to use his influence and connections with Mr Rajoy to get him to accept a mediation process. He also reiterated his support for Catalan independence.

The Catalonian representation to Britain and Ireland, based in London, was not in a position yesterday to respond to the Taoiseach’s comments that he did not support Catalonian independence. Nor was it in a position to say if it had plans to contact the Irish Government on the matter.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times