Taoiseach should sack Coveney over envoy episode, SF leader says

McDonald raises possibility of no-confidence motion if Martin fails to sanction Minister

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou  McDonald said that if the Taoiseach did not take action by sanctioning Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, her party would act. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that if the Taoiseach did not take action by sanctioning Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, her party would act. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said Taoiseach Micheál Martin should sack Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney for his handling of the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a special envoy.

Ms McDonald warned that if Mr Martin did not take action by sanctioning Mr Coveney, her party would act, including with the possibility of tabling a Dáil motion of no confidence.

Senior Coalition sources expressed confidence in Mr Coveney amid continuing pressure from the Opposition.

But Ms McDonald was highly critical of Mr Coveney’s role in the bid to appoint Ms Zappone as a special envoy on freedom of expression.

Former Independent minister Ms Zappone was appointed to the job at a Cabinet meeting on July 27th, but later declined the post amid the controversy that ensued.

This included claims of “cronyism” that have been strongly denied by the Government.

Denial

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

He also told the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs Ms Zappone was mistaken in her belief that she had been offered the job last March.

Ms McDonald claimed Mr Coveney’s version of events “lacks any credibility whatsoever”.

She said Mr Martin “needs to act” to sanction Mr Coveney, and “in the event that he is not prepared to act well then Sinn Féin will”.

She said the possibility of a no-confidence motion is “on the table”. Asked if she thought Mr Martin should sack Mr Coveney she said: “I do.”

A Government spokesman reaffirmed Mr Martin’s confidence in Mr Coveney.

Fine Gael Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said Mr Coveney had answered all the questions put to him “comprehensively” and “honestly”.

Mistakes had been made and apologies had been issued, Mr Harris said. “There’ll be some people no matter what Minister Coveney says who will not be satisfied.”

On Sinn Féin’s threat of a no-confidence motion, Mr Harris said: “Am I in any way surprised that Sinn Féin may consider continuing to politicise this issue? No, I’m not.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin, of the Green Party, and Minister for Education Norma Foley, of Fianna Fáil, also made comments indicating they still had confidence in Mr Coveney.

Consultancy work

Meanwhile, The Irish Times has learned that consultancy work Ms Zappone had been doing with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) finished last Sunday.

Ms Zappone made reference to her work with the United Nations’ sexual and reproductive health agency in a text message to Mr Coveney on March 4th this year, in which she said this role was expected to last until June.

It was in the same set of texts where she thanked him for offering her an “incredible opportunity”.

Records released by the Department of Foreign Affairs show that Ms Zappone previously had lunch with UNFPA’s executive director Natalia Kanem in New York in March 2020.

Ms Zappone was minister for children at the time and was in the United States as part of her previous role as an envoy for Ireland’s bid for a UN Security Council seat.

A UNFPA statement said Ms Zappone was engaged on a short-term consultancy contract to develop a “strategic thought piece on multi-stakeholder engagement in support of UNFPA’s advocacy efforts”.

It said conversations about the role for Ms Zappone had not been initiated until the spring of 2021.

The position was paid though UNFPA said the details of the remuneration were “confidential”.

There was a “no cost” extension of the contract until September 5th to amend the delivery date of the “end product”.