Simon Coveney: Irish foreign minister wins confidence vote

image source, Reuters
image captionSimon Coveney faced criticism for his handling of the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a UN special envoy.

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has survived a confidence vote in the Dáil (Irish parliament) following a controversial appointment.

For weeks, he has been criticised for his handling of the appointment of former government minister Katherine Zappone as a UN special envoy.

He denied he was lobbied to appoint her but apologised for not informing members of the cabinet.

He won a confidence motion by 92 votes to 59.

Ahead of the vote, Mr Coveney said he regretted the "preventable controversy" over Ms Zappone's appointment, admitting he should have taken the issue more seriously when he was first questioned about it in the summer.

However, he insisted the appointment was "in no way corrupt or dishonest".

Ms Zappone later turned down the job, saying the controversy had undermined the legitimacy of the envoy role.

Mr Coveney's party, Fine Gael, is in a coalition government with both Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.

On 27 July 2021 he informed cabinet ministers that Ms Zappone would become the new "Special Envoy to the UN for Freedom of Opinion and Expression".

However, the job had not been advertised and it later emerged that neither Fianna Fáil nor Green Party ministers knew about her appointment, including the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Micheál Martin.

image source, PA Media
image captionKatherine Zappone is a former government minister and a high-profile LGBT rights campaigner

The Republic's biggest opposition party, Sinn Féin, tabled a motion of no confidence in Mr Coveney on Wednesday - the first day the Dáil (Irish parliament) returned from its summer recess.

But the government put down a counter confidence motion to be voted on by TDs (members of parliament).

The taoiseach has described Mr Coveney's failure to inform his government colleagues before the appointment as an "oversight".

'Totalitarian regime'

Mr Martin warned Fianna Fáil TDs that they faced a six-month suspension from the parliamentary party if they did not support Mr Coveney in Wednesday's vote.

The taoiseach's response caused internal divisions within his own party.

Before the vote on Wednesday evening, Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry resigned from the parliamentary party and insisted he would be voting no confidence in Mr Coveney.

Mr MacSharry, who is a long-time critic of Mr Martin, claimed Fianna Fáil policy was currently being "determined in a fashion consistent with an undemocratic totalitarian regime".

Text messages

Earlier in the controversy, it emerged Mr Coveney's party leader Leo Varadkar had not been aware of the special envoy appointment until a week before cabinet, when Ms Zappone texted him about it.

In messages released by Mr Varadkar in September, he showed that he subsequently asked Mr Coveney about the role before the cabinet meeting in July.

Ms Zappone replied her contract was soon to be finalised.

On 4 August, Ms Zappone announced she would not take on the special envoy position as she believed "it is clear that criticism of the appointment process has impacted the legitimacy of the role itself".

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has called for Mr Coveney to be sacked, branding his actions as not being "of the standard expected of a minister".

The Labour Party indicated it did not have confidence in the government but leader Alan Kelly said there were "bigger issues" than the row.

On Tuesday, Mr Coveney told a party conference he was "embarrassed" the appointment had led to a "fiasco".

"It's not been my finest month in politics," he said.