Taoiseach says party whip to be imposed in any Coveney no confidence vote

Fianna Fáil TDs who defy whip or abstain from vote face six-month suspension

Taoiseach Micheál Martin says Fianna Fáil TDs will be expected to vote against the Sinn Féin motion. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Taoiseach Micheál Martin says Fianna Fáil TDs will be expected to vote against the Sinn Féin motion. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons


Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed a full three-line whip will be imposed on Fianna Fáil’s TDs for any Dáil vote of no confidence in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

In the wake of some party TDs publicly expressing their disquiet at supporting the Fine Gael Minister, Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil TDs would be expected to walk through the lobby and vote against any Sinn Féin motion.

The penalty for refusing to do so, or for abstaining, he said, was a six-month suspension from the parliamentary party.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has called on Mr Martin to sanction Mr Coveney over his role in the appointment of former minister Katherine Zappone as special envoy to the UN for freedom of expression 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 controversy was a recurring theme at Fianna Fáil’s special meeting in Co Cavan, with a number of TDs taking issue with what they perceived to be the Taoiseach’s downplaying of the issue.

Speaking to the media on Friday, 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.

He denied he had been too forgiving of Mr Coveney and too quick to defend him.

“I don’t accept that at all. I very quickly made it clear that appointments of this kind should be flagged. I received a very fulsome and comprehensive apology. I made it clear to put in place structure.”

He said the response should have been balanced and proportional. “Let’s not forget that this was a part-time envoy that did not go ahead. Are we seriously suggesting that that was the new threshold?”

Mr Martin claimed Sinn Féin had appointed people to boards in Northern Ireland without interviews or advertisements. “They don’t have credibility when it comes to cronyism,” he said. “That said, mistakes were made in the appointment of the special envoy. There has to be a full review of how that happens in the future. Lessons have to be learned.

“There is a need for proportionality and balance in terms of this issue and it is not of a scale that merits the motion put down by Sinn Féin.”

Kilkenny TD John McGuinness, who was not at the meeting in Co Cavan, wrote in a letter to colleagues that Fianna Fáil had “been used as a doormat” during the controversy.

He claimed Fine Gael was asking Fianna Fáil to “bend like a daisy in a storm” and Mr Martin was agreeable to do so.

In the letter, he wrote it was time for the leader to “pass on the baton”.

He was the only of the party TDs and Senators to openly call for a change of leader.

Mr McGuinness said he does not know yet if he will vote with the Government on the motion when it comes before the Dáil. In an RTÉ interview, he was asked about losing the whip if he voted against or abstained. He replied by asking if removal of the whip would be the right way to treat a party backbencher.

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

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 role before his officials carried out the work to create it.

The Government 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”.