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Minister Simon Coveney wins confidence vote in the Dáil by 92 votes to 59

Sinn Féin tabled a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Coveney during this evening's debate.
Coveney during this evening's debate.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

Updated Sep 15th 2021, 10:20 PM

MINISTER SIMON COVENEY has won a confidence vote in the Dáil this evening after a rancorous session that saw accusations fly across the Dáil chamber. 

Sinn Féin tabled a motion of no confidence in Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney with the government flipping it into a confidence motion in the minister.

After a vote was called by Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl at about 7.40 pm, the government and Coveney won by 92 votes to 59. 

Ó Fearghaíl had earlier implored members that “the public is watching” as speakers were heckled during the debate. 

TDs and Senators today fully returned to Leinster House for the first time since March 2020 with the chamber packed for the vote on a controversy that dominated the summer recess. 

Sinn Féin’s motion was in response to Coveney’s handling of his nomination of Katherine Zappone to a UN role and his response to the controversy that followed.

The former children’s minister and independent TD was to be appointed to a new role as Ireland’s Special Envoy to the UN for freedom of opinion and expression.

Zappone withdrew from the selection after it emerged that Taoiseach Micheál Martin had not been made aware of the nomination before it was brought to Cabinet on 28 July.

Coveney has apologised for the manner of the appointment process and spoke before the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee after it came to light that he had deleted text messages relating to Zappone’s appointment.

Coveney has said the position was not a “makey up job to do a favour for Katherine Zappone” but various members of the opposition accused the government of “cronyism” in nominating the former minister for the role. 

In the Dáil this evening, Taoiseach Micheál Martin accused Sinn Fein of tabling the motion to get publicity and to engage in “populist partisan attacks”.

“The position involved was intended to be part-time and awarded no permanent benefits to anyone. There is no allegation of a benefit being sought for or conferred on any office holder, and ultimately as we know, no-one was appointed to the role,” the Taoiseach said. 

Speaking about Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, the Taoiseach said:

Some of the statements which Deputy McDonald has made in the past few days are genuinely breath-taking in their cynicism and the double standards involved. Deputy McDonald even went as far as to say yesterday that her party had been forced into putting down the motion because ‘they were not prepared to look the other way’. Not prepared to look the other way? Sinn Fein?

Martin spoke in the Dáil after Fianna Fáil backbencher Marc MacSharry said he would be resigning the party whip to vote no confidence in Coveney. 

Speaking after the Taoiseach, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan also said he would be voting confidence in Coveney and used his time to defend Zappone who he said was “eminently qualified” to defend freedom of expression and LGBT rights.  

Sinn Fein leader McDonald said her party was moving the motion to act “against the culture of cronyism at the very heart of this government”.

She said the motion was brought “because the Taoiseach refuses to do his job, he refuses to hold Minister Simon Coveney to account”.

McDonald claimed Coveney “sought to make up a job for a friend and a former colleague, and when caught red-handed he went about covering his tracks”.

“This is by any standard an abuse of office and Sinn Fein was left with no option but to move a no-confidence motion,” she said.

matt Matt Carthy accused Minister Simon Harris of leaking from Cabinet. Source: Oireachtas.ie

The entire controversy began seven weeks ago when word of Zappone’s nomination was leaked from Cabinet and reported in the media. 

Using parliamentary privilege this evening, Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said that Fine Gael’s Minister for Further Education Simon Harris had leaked the news to the media.

The Cavan-Monaghan TD said: 

Rather than dealing with the debacle, Fine Gael were running a sting operation to expose that Simon Harris had leaked the appointment from the Cabinet meeting because that is how business is done.

In response to Carthy’s claim, a spokesperson for Minister Harris said: “This was a clear misuse of Dail privilege and it is untrue.”

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar accused Sinn Fein of attempting to “hound a decent man out of office for cheap publicity”.

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He said it was an “honour to express my full confidence in my friend and colleague Simon Coveney”, adding he “knows nobody more committed to public service than he”.

Varadkar said Coveney “made mistakes when it came to the appointment of Katherine Zappone as special envoy”.

“He and I have acknowledged and apologised for our mistakes in that regard,” he said.

However he stressed “the need for balance”, paying tribute to Coveney’s work on the New Decade New Approach deal in January 2020 which led to the restoration of the Stormont Assembly.

“Without him, Michelle O’Neill would not be the deputy First Minister today and there would not be an Executive in Northern Ireland, he put back together the Executive Sinn Fein collapsed in a tactical act of arrogance leaving Northern Ireland without a voice for three years during the Brexit negotiations,” he said.

Labour, the Social Democrats and People Before Profit had each indicated that they would not be supporting the government and will not be voting confidence in Coveney. 

“Labour from the outset of this government expressed no confidence in this administration and we will do so against this evening,” Labour TD Brendan Howlin told the Dáil. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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