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02nd Sep 2021

Taoiseach says controversy alone isn’t reason to sack Coveney

Clara Kelly

“The fact that it’s a distraction on its own doesn’t merit the action that you’re suggesting.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that controversy alone would not be a good enough reason to ask Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, to step down.

When part of the speech Martin gave when firing former TD Barry Cowen was read to him by Newstalk’s Kieran Cuddihy on Thursday, Martin said that Cowen was asked to step down as he disputed a Garda record over an offence, rather than the controvery itself.

In a fiery exchange, Martin replied: “Why don’t you read the previous 20 paragraphs as well?”

Martin added that the situation is different as Coveney is answering questions and offering to go before the Foreign Affairs Committee for a second time.

“The fact that it’s a distraction on its own doesn’t merit the action that you’re suggesting,” he said.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said earlier on Thursday that Martin needs to acknowledge the content of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s text messages between himself and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and former minister Katherine Zappone.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar issued an apology on Thursday morning after it was revealed that texts he released between him and former Minister Katherine Zappone were not disclosed when requested earlier by journalists under Freedom of Information (FOI) law.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Cowen said of the matter: “It’s just something that fails to go away, despite many efforts by those concerned to draw a line under various aspects of it. It’s very disconcerting, it’s very disappointing.

In the summer of 2020, Cowen was sacked as Minister for Agriculture by the Taoiseach following controversy over a four-year-old drink-driving ban.

Martin’s comments come as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar shared screenshots of messages between himself and Coveney and Zappone on Wednesday.

The messages shared with RTÉ’s Political Correspondent Paul Cunningham were from the week leading up to the Merrion Hotel event which hit headlines last month.

Within the communications, Varadkar contacted Coveney to ask about Zappone’s role ahead of meeting with her that week, to which Coveney replied: “Yes I spoke to Katherine tonight.

Coveney added: “She seems very happy about it. I plan to have it in a memo for Government next week.”

Speaking to reporters in Dublin on Wednesday, Coveney said that the reason he had deleted the texts from his own phone was due to hacking concerns.

Asked about the messages with the Tánaiste, Coveney said they exchanged messages “a number of days” before Varadkar was due to meet Zappone in Dublin, and he asked if there was “anything you want to brief me on”.

Coveney said that he had texted back that he was working with Zappone and his department about a “… potential role as a special envoy, but I will be bringing the details to Government in the coming weeks – and that was it.”

On Tuesday evening the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence noted at a meeting that he routinely deletes text messages for storage space reasons.

Coveney sought to clarify the matter on Wednesday, insisting that any related texts that were later deleted were part of a regular habit of clearing messages.

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