Sinn Féin using Coveney no confidence motion to ‘divide and conquer’, says Taoiseach

Martin says he expects all Fianna Fáil members to vote down proposed Dáil motion

The Taoiseach said he expected all Fianna Fáil TDs to support Simon Coveney should a motion of no confidence be tabled in the Dáil. Photograph: Conor McCabe/PA Wire

The Taoiseach said he expected all Fianna Fáil TDs to support Simon Coveney should a motion of no confidence be tabled in the Dáil. Photograph: Conor McCabe/PA Wire

 

The Taoiseach has described the threat of a Sinn Féin motion of no confidence in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney as an attempt “to divide and conquer”.

Micheál Martin said he expected all Fianna Fáil members to support Mr Coveney in any such vote, should it arise, adding the rules of the party were clear – to support the party and the Government.

He also said he could have “and maybe should have” blocked the appointment of Katherine Zappone as special envoy to the UN for freedom of expression when it came up at Cabinet but said his focus had been on issues more important to the country.

Commenting on the threat of a no-confidence motion, Mr Martin told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland it was an example of “old style, naked politics” and it was “a bit rich coming from Sinn Féin”.

Mr Coveney had apologised on a number of occasions, and to him personally, and had gone before the Oireachtas committee, the Taoiseach said, adding there needed to be some perspective on the issue.

Mr Martin said he did not believe it was an issue that merited resignation – “that’s not proportionate”.

Discussing the issue further on Newstalk Breakfast, Mr Martin said: “If I am honest I think it was wrong. I think perception is important in public life. The Minister has apologised to me for not alerting us and that is important.

“We have agreed it won’t happen again but there does need to be perspective and balance as well. We are talking about a part-time envoy to the UN for Ireland,” he said.

“The position I took on it, I flagged the necessity that there would be proper flagging of these appointments to Government, but in my view it wasn’t of an order given everything else that was on the agenda that day, and my focus was very much on the bigger items that were on the agenda.”

‘Insider dealing’

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has called on Mr Martin to sanction Mr Coveney and said she believes he should be sacked. She said the possibility of a motion of no confidence in Mr Coveney was “on the table”.

The Labour Party said it would support a motion of no confidence in Mr Coveney if one was tabled in the Dáil.

Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll McNeill accused Sinn Féin of adopting a “purely populist approach”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, she said the issue was one of proportion and balance. When Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley had sent “an appalling tweet” she had not sought his resignation, she had asked him to account for himself.

But Sinn Féin’s housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin described the appointment of Ms Zappone as “old style insider dealing”. This was how Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael “do business”.

Ms Carroll McNeill said Mr Ó Broin’s approach was “Trumpian” and an attempt at generating headlines.

However, Mr O Broin said Mr Coveney’s response to the issue had not been credible and that after seven weeks there still had not been a credible response from the Government. Mr Coveney would have to address the “inconsistencies”.

Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys described Sinn Féin’s proposed no-confidence motion in Minister Coveney as “opportunistic”.

“When you think of all the things happening in Ireland at the minute, and there is a risk to the executive, I think that Sinn Féin would be much better placed supporting Simon Coveney in the work that he has been doing there,” she said.

“Some people have short memories”, Minister Humphreys said, adding that it was not long ago that Minister Coveney was part of the team that ensured there would be no hard Border on the island of Ireland.

“Nobody is more aware of that than I am living on the Border. People are continuing to travel over and back on the Border. A good deal was got,” she said, adding that people should focus on the “real issues” that impact people’s lives.

Minister Humphreys acknowledged those involved “didn’t get this right” but said changes will be made.

“Minister Simon Coveney has attended two Oireachtas committees. He has put his hands up. He has apologised for the way in which this was handled,” she said.

Mr Coveney appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs for two hours earlier this week, rejecting suggestions he offered Ms Zappone the special envoy job before his officials carried out the work to create it.

The Government also has strongly rejected Opposition claims that the appointment of Ms Zappone to the role, that she later declined because of the controversy, amounted to “cronyism”.