McDonald said today that for the last eight weeks, Coveney has repeatedly changed his story.

Taoiseach 'has confidence' in Simon Coveney, says spokesperson

His comment comes after Mary Lou McDonald said today that Simon Coveney cannot stay on.

LAST UPDATE | Sep 8th 2021, 5:50 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN does have confidence in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, according to a government spokesperson.

His comment comes after Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said today that Simon Coveney cannot stay on in Government in the wake of Zapponegate. 

In a statement, she reminded the Taoiseach that he is head of government, not just the Fianna Fáil part of it, and added that if he is not willing to act, then Sinn Féin will. 

It is expected that such a threat could materialise in a motion of no-confidence in the minister when the Dáil resumes next week.

When asked by reporters today if the Taoieach has confidence in the minister, the spokesperson said “he does” have confidence in the minister “as does the government”.

If any motion of no confidence were to be tabled, the whip would apply, meaning all government TDs – from all three parties – would be expected to support the minister.

The media was also told that Transport Minister Eamon Ryan also has confidence in Coveney. 

Coveney was not at Cabinet today as he is en route to New York to take part in events being held for Ireland’s presidency of the UN Security Council.

A government spokesperson confirmed to The Journal that the minister has no plans to meet with Katherine Zappone while in New York.

Speaking to the media this afternoon, McDonald said that “there needs to be accountability now at the heart of Government”. 

“There needs to be an appropriate sanction for Simon Coveney. The Taoiseach needs to act, I think he needs to come out today and set out very clearly the course of action that he proposes to take,” McDonald said. 

“In the event that he is not prepared to act, then Sinn Féin will,” she said. 

It’s hard to see how Minister Coveney can stay on given all that has transpired over the last eight weeks.

Coveney came before an Oireachtas Committee yesterday where he was grilled further on the controversy surrounding the planned UN special envoy role for former minister Zappone. 

Following his appearance, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that “perception does matter in public life” and appointments must both be transparent and be seen as such. 

In her statement earlier today, McDonald said that for the last eight weeks, Coveney has repeatedly changed his story.

“It is clear that there is absolutely no credibility to anything he is saying.

“He continues to deny that a job offer was made in March. He continues to deny that there was lobbying. He kept information from the Taoiseach for more than four months,” he said.

“He destroyed departmental records, which he is obliged to keep under the law. This is not behaviour that is acceptable from any minister. The Taoiseach is head of the entire government and not just the Fianna Fáil element of it,” she said.

“He has accepted that what Simon Coveney did was wrong. If that is to mean anything, he needs to act and apply appropriate sanctions. If he is not willing to act, then Sinn Féin will.

“This was cronyism pure and simple. It goes to the heart of how politics has been conducted in this state for decades, and it is why we have bad government after bad government. People are sick to their back teeth of it,” she said. 

Reacting to McDonald’s comments today, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris told reporters: “There have been mistakes made here, there are lessons to be learnt, apologies have been issued, information has been published, questions have been taken. 

Am I in any way surprised that Sinn Féin may consider continuing to politicise this issue? No, I am not.

“But at the same time, I know Simon Coveney an awful long time, I’ve worked with Coveney, I think the people of Ireland know Simon Coveney and I think they know him to be honest, hard-working and a person of integrity. 

“Do people make mistakes? Yes, they do. Was a mistake made here? Yes, there was, but if Sinn Féin want to continue with the politics that’s their decision.”

No confidence motion

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane told The Journal that it is a matter for the Taoiseach what action he takes to hold Coveney to account, but in his view the minister’s position is untenable. 

If the Taoiseach does not act, McDonald has the option of moving on a no confidence motion, he added.

It is not just the Opposition that is unhappy with the controversy, Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan told RTÉ’S Claire Byrne that the Zappone controversy was a “Fine Gael omni-shambles”. 

He said Leo Varadkar’s party showed disrespect to the office of An Taoiseach and to the Green Party.

Amidst this controversy, criticism is also being heaped on the Taoiseach from within his own party over his handling of the debacle, and his perceived lack of authority to take action against Fine Gael ministers. 

O’Callaghan said today that he would not support a motion of no confidence in Micheál Martin if one was tabled.

However, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has said he doesn’t believe there will be any further developments in the controversy over the envoy appointment.

Speaking on his way into Cabinet this morning, Ryan said he watched most of the hearing yesterday. He said he believed all the relevant information has now been put out there into the public domain, and that he doesn’t expect there to be any further developments. 

Invitation to Zappone

The Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs is expected to invite Zappone to attend a hearing to answer questions about the UN special envoy job.

Yesterday, Coveney told the committee that she was mistaken in thinking that a job offer had been made to her in March. The role as a special envoy was only signed off by Cabinet in July.

“Looking back now, I should have been clearer with Katherine on the extent of the work needed in the Department before a formal role could be offered to her.”

He told the committee that in hindsight, he should have responded to Zappone’s “enthusiastic” texts, saying that she was “excited” about the possibility of the role. 

He added that it would have been helpful for him to clarify, by replying to her text in which she thanked him for the opportunity, and telling her that it was not a job offer at that point “but rather a concept”.

With reporting by Hayley Halpin

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