McDonald defends Coveney no confidence motion, hitting out at ‘crony politics’

Sinn Féin leader does not rule out coalition with FG and FF but says government with neither best

 Sinn Fein  leader  Mary Lou McDonald  at the  party think-in. Photograph: Gareth Chaney / Collins Photos

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald at the party think-in. Photograph: Gareth Chaney / Collins Photos


Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has defended her party’s motion of no confidence in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney over his handling of the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a special envoy.

She hit out at what “crony politics” she claimed has been a feature of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Governments for generations as she responded to Labour Party leader Alan Kelly’s argument that the no confidence motion is not a priority.

However, despite her severe criticism of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil she did not rule out going into Coalition with either party in the future, while emphasising that the best outcome of an election is a government without either party returning to power.

Ms McDonald was speaking as her party holds its pre-Dáil think-in meeting in Dublin.

Sinn Féin’s no confidence motion will be debated in the Dáil on Wednesday.

Controversy first arose over the Zappone appointment when it emerged that Taoiseach Micheál Martin was not aware of the plan to select her for the job prior to the Cabinet meeting where it was discussed.

The Government has rejected Opposition claims that the appointment of former Independent minister Katherine Zappone amounted to cronyism.

Mr Coveney has also denied that he effectively offered Ms Zappone the job before his officials carried out the work to create it, and that her contacts with him amounted to lobbying. Ms Zappone has now declined the role.

Speaking of her party’s no confidence motion Ms McDonald said Sinn Féin was left with no option but to table it as “the Taoiseach failed to do his job in failing to sanction his Minister.”

She said people will correctly say that the pressing issues for people are housing and health and this is “absolutely true”.

But Ms McDonald she claimed is “the insider crony culture that has marked Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and administrations now for a century has to stop.”

She argued that Mr Coveney has never given a credible explanation for what happened and accused him of a “cock and bull story”.

Later in her speech to party colleagues she claimed senior Ministers including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Michael McGrath and Paschal Donohoe “can’t get their stories straight about who knew what and when” adding there was a “carousel of contradictions” and “around and around it goes goes”.

Bigger issues

Labour leader Mr Kelly has said there are “bigger issues” facing the Dáil than a vote of confidence in Mr Coveney and he doesn’t believe it is a priority.

Mr Kelly’s party will vote in favour of Sinn Féin’s motion citing a general lack of confidence in the Government.

Ms McDonald said she didn’t agree with Mr Kelly’s view on the controversy saying: “I think increasingly the public’s impatience with crony politics has been evident.”

She linked it to “bread and butter issues” like housing and claimed “crony politics” has been to the benefit of developers, landlords and big financiers.

Ms McDonald was asked multiple times on Tuesday if she would make a commitment not to go into Coalition with Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil after the next election between an interview on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland and a press conference prior to her party’s meeting.

She did not rule out either party definitively.

‘Government of change’

She told RTÉ the best outcome of the next election would be a government without either party and she wants Sinn Féin to lead a government to “demonstrate that things can be done differently.”

Pressed on the issue she promised that any government involving Sinn Féin would be one that “pursues a very different agenda”.

She did highlight how the differences in approach and policy priorities are “very very wide” between Sinn Féin and Fine Gael and “the policy differences between us and the old political establishment are self evident.”

At the press conference she said the commitment Sinn Féin is offering is to “lead a government of change”.

She said the worst outcome of an election is a government of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil together and that Sinn Féin wants a “government of the left”.

Ms McDonald said: “We’ll set out our stall when the election comes and then we will ask people to give us the chance”.