Irish Foreign Minister Coveney survives no-confidence vote – POLITICO


DUBLIN — Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney survived a no-confidence vote Wednesday night over his bungled handling of a United Nations appointment — but the dispute dealt fresh damage to Prime Minister Micheál Martin.

The main opposition Sinn Féin party’s motion to oust Coveney was always doomed to failure given the coalition government’s solid majority. Following an ill-tempered two-hour debate featuring vulgar heckling from the Sinn Féin benches, lawmakers voted 92-59 to keep Coveney as Ireland’s point man for post-Brexit relations with Britain.

But as government lawmakers noted, Sinn Féin’s challenge sought to deepen divisions within the ranks of Martin’s struggling Fianna Fáil party. In this it was successful.

Shortly before the debate began, Fianna Fáil lawmaker Marc MacSharry announced he was resigning the party’s whip to join Sinn Féin and other left-wing lawmakers in opposing Coveney, a leading figure in the centrist Fine Gael party.

Martin had warned that any Fianna Fáil lawmaker who voted against Coveney, or abstained, would face a six-month suspension from the party’s parliamentary caucus.

MacSharry, the son of former European commissioner Ray MacSharry, opted to jump first. In his resignation letter, he derided Martin’s leadership as “consistent with an undemocratic totalitarian regime rather than a socialist democratic party of the people.”

The debate — on the first day of the new parliamentary session — showcased wider signs of unease within Fianna Fáil, which has seen its public support cut in half since agreeing last year to share power with historic rivals Fine Gael for the first time.

Much of that support has shifted to Sinn Féin, which thanks to MacSharry’s resignation is now the largest party in Dáil Éireann, with 37 seats to Fianna Fáil’s remaining 36.

Martin is scheduled to swap positions on December 15 with Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, the Fine Gael leader, under the terms of their pact. While their coalition was built to last until 2024, several Fianna Fáil lawmakers warned Wednesday night that their backing shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“It would be presumptuous for anyone to believe or presume they have majority support,” said Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen, who was forced by Martin to step down last year as agriculture minister after failing to disclose a drink driving offense. “The people wish, expect and deserve to see good governance, not sideshows or ineptitude.”

Fine Gael’s heavyweights showered praise on Coveney, who has apologized repeatedly for his handling of an aborted appointment of a former Cabinet colleague, Katherine Zappone, as a part-time envoy to the United Nations.

Varadkar called Coveney “diligent, knowledgeable, sincere, supportive and loyal.” He derided Sinn Féin, the main Irish nationalist party in Northern Ireland’s cross-community government, as unprincipled hypocrites.

Noting Coveney’s lead role in brokering a 2020 revival of power-sharing in Northern Ireland, he said Sinn Féin leaders should offer him “their thanks and their respect, not their opprobrium.”

“Sinn Féin knows the work that he put in to ensure there was no hard border on our island,” he said, referring to the Brexit trade protocol that shifted the EU trade border on British goods to Northern Ireland’s ports. “Yet they seek tonight to hound an honorable man out of office for cheap publicity and political gain.”

Like Martin, Varadkar described Coveney’s missteps on the Zappone role as small potatoes in a world of colossal challenges. He appealed for “a sense of proportion and balance. If everything is a disgrace or a crisis or a scandal, then nothing really is.”

And to cries of “bullshit!” from the opposite side of the chamber, Varadkar cast Sinn Féin as a party of shady finances and hyper-partisan appointments. In Northern Ireland, he said, “Sinn Fein operates an international center of excellence when it comes to cronyism.”




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