Simon Coveney challenged over plans to reopen Iranian embassy by Fine Gael backbenchers

Minister for Foreign Affairs says Ireland needs to retain diplomatic channels despite recent events in Iran

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has been challenged by members of his parliamentary party over plans to reopen an embassy in Tehran.

Mr Coveney told Fine Gael TDs and Senators that the plan to reopen the embassy remained under review and argued that the Government has made its position on Iran “crystal clear”, but said that Ireland values diplomatic channels even when the state uses them to make “harsh criticisms” of other countries.

However, several deputies spoke out against the plan, including Carlow-Kilkenny’s John Paul Phelan and Charlie Flanagan from Laois-Offaly, who is a former minister for foreign affairs. Both were signatories to a letter sent on Tuesday asking that the embassy plan be stalled or cancelled. Mr Phelan told the group that opening the embassy would be “offering tacit support” for a “brutal regime”. Mr Flanagan advised the Minister to “hasten slowly” on the matter.

However, there was some support for Mr Coveney in the room, including from Bernard Durkan, the Kildare South TD, who told the meeting that lines of communication should be kept open, even if it were to criticise the Islamic Republic.

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At the same meeting Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe defended the Government’s decision to restore bankers’ bonuses, which has provoked criticism from some on the backbenches. He told the meeting he had reached the “difficult conclusion” that doing nothing on bonuses would not help at all and made the argument that the right people were needed in the sector.

Mr Flanagan and Mr Phelan said they had no problem with the restoration of bonuses. Mr Durkan said it “may well be the right thing to do” but the sector would have to be closely watched in case regulatory or performance issues from the boom era re-emerged. Senator Tim Lombard said he had no problem with wage increases for staff in branches, but that he was against the bonus restoration, recalling last summer when AIB proposed branch closures in Cork and elsewhere.

A briefing in relation to the issue was arranged for backbenchers on Tuesday afternoon, but several members of the parliamentary party said they were given insufficient notice and that it took place when many rural members were en route to Leinster House.

“Where was the political savvy, leave it until the new fellah comes in and let him decide,” one said.

At the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, Senator Shane Cassells made what a source described as a “blistering attack” on the scaling back of services at Navan hospital and reports that ambulances are to bypass it. A source said Cassells gave a “very impassioned and angry speech about Navan hospital”. Critically ill patients are to be diverted from attending the hospital from next month in a further reconfiguration of services there. According to the source, Mr Cassells said he was not criticising Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly but the HSE, although they believed there was an “implicit rebuke” of the Minister in his contribution.

Sources said Mr Donnelly told Mr Cassells that the ambulance bypass is being updated but that a letter was saying he had agreed to wider changes, which was incorrect.

The meeting also heard a discussion of dangerous dogs following an attack on a nine-year-old boy in Enniscorthy. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there would be a “serious interdepartmental engagement” co-ordinated by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue which would address leiglsation, policy and enforcement after the “shocking” attack.

Clare TD Cathal Crowe, who attracted attention on Tuesday and Wednesday when he called for a cap for refugees from Ukraine going to his county, did not attend the meeting. He has since changed his position, saying he no longer agrees with a cap.

Earlier on Wednesday, Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway, who is also from Clare, welcomed that Mr Crowe had “rowed back on what was an outrageous proposition”. “Ukranian people are fleeing an outrageous situation not by choice but by necessity,” he said.

Michael McNamara, an Indepdent TD for Clare, said Ireland has “obligations we must and ought to adhere to” on accommodating refugees, but said “there is going to have to be alternative accommodation provided by next summer, and there’ll be a huge amount of resentment and hostility in Clare, Donegal or Kerry if bed nights are not available to the tourism sector”.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times