DUBLIN — When Ireland’s parliament reconvenes next week, the opposition will immediately seek to oust Foreign Minister Simon Coveney in a no-confidence vote and deepen divisions in an already fractious coalition government.
The main opposition Sinn Feín gave POLITICO a copy of its draft no-confidence motion to be debated Wednesday once Dáil Éireann returns from summer recess.
The motion appears designed to undermine Prime Minister Micheál Martin, leader of the Fianna Fáil party, as much as Coveney from the rival Fine Gael.
Coveney is facing calls to quit after seeking to appoint an ex-government minister to a United Nations envoy role without first telling Martin.
The Sinn Féin motion calls the botched appointment “cronyism,” accuses Coveney of misleading parliament over his actions, and slams Martin for failing to punish him. “Dáil Éireann has no confidence in the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney and calls on him to resign forthwith,” it concludes.
By challenging Fianna Fáil backbenchers to back the damaged Coveney, Sinn Féin seeks to weaken their resolve to stay in coalition with Fine Gael as time quickly runs out on Martin’s tenure as premier.
“Coalition government is about trust and mutual respect. There was a serious lapse and Simon Coveney has now apologized a number of times. Damage was done,” said Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath, the minister for public expenditure and reform.
McGrath — who represents the same constituency, Cork South-Central, as both Martin and Coveney — said requiring Fianna Fáil to vote in support of Coveney would “create a lot of discomfort for members of our own party.”
Under terms of their June 2020 coalition pact, Martin will step down on December 15 to be replaced by Leo Varadkar, the Fine Gael chief who led Ireland’s previous minority government. The two parties, who contest the center ground in Irish politics, have never shared power before. Several rebel lawmakers have opposed the pact from the start.
At least one Fianna Fáil lawmaker, John McGuinness, says he may not vote for Coveney — and has simultaneously circulated a letter to party colleagues seeking Martin’s removal as party leader.
McGuinness told colleagues that Martin had allowed Fianna Fáil to be “used as a doormat” by Coveney. Allying themselves to century-old rivals, he wrote, “has seen our support dropping like a stone while we bend like a daisy in a storm every time Fine Gael sighs.”
Martin said he expects all Fianna Fáil lawmakers to back Coveney, preserving the government’s 83-76 advantage in the Dáil. He branded Sinn Féin as hypocrites for having a long record of appointing party allies to positions whenever possible.
“This is old-style naked opposition politics that Sinn Féin are at here. It’s an attempt to divide and conquer,” Martin said at a luxury hotel near the Northern Ireland border, where Fianna Fáil lawmakers gathered to debate all that’s gone wrong for them over the past decade.
Fianna Fáil – Gaelic for “Soldiers of Destiny” – won the most Dáil seats in every Irish general election from 1932 to 2011, when its support imploded amid a property market crash, bank failures and international bailout.
Sinn Féin won the most votes in the 2020 election, but Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael buried differences rooted in rival sides of Ireland’s 1922-23 civil war to form a government that shut out Sinn Féin.
Other left-wing parties, including Labour, said they would back Sinn Féin’s motion – even though Labour lawmaker Aodhán Ó Ríordáin conceded that Coveney wasn’t guilty of a sackable offense.
“What we’ll have on Wednesday night on the no-confidence motion is a lot of game playing,” he said. “We should be talking about more substantive issues.”