Brexit payback: ‘Wounded Ireland dubbed incapable of standing up to EU

Simon Coveney grilled on 'finding answers' over Article 16 row

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Ray Bassett was speaking at a time when Mr Martin was struggling to contain the fallout from efforts by Sinn Fein to topple Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. Mr Coveney, the right-hand man of former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, is facing accusations of “cronyism” relating to the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a UN special envoy.

And he claimed the bickering had left Mr Martin weakened and preoccupied – and with little option other than to fall into line with Brussels.

Sinn Fein TD Matt Carthy confirmed yesterday his party – which currently has more seats in Ireland’s Dail, or Parliament, than any other – would be tabling a motion of no confidence, saying the appointment of Ms Zappone to a post from which she has subsequently resigned amounted to “blatant cronyism”.

Mr Carthy said Sinn Fein had taken the decision because Mr Martin did not sanction his Cabinet colleague over the crisis.

Mr Bassett, who is Ireland’s former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, as well as an advocate of Ireland following the UK’s lead with a so-called Irexit, told the controversy proved Fianna Fail leader Mr Martin’s coalition government was in trouble.

They will be concentrating on survival locally and I am not sure if they will be able to think much about Brussels for the moment

Ray Bassett

He said: “I’m not sure if they are at the lame duck stage yet but they are badly wounded.

“They will be concentrating on survival locally and I am not sure if they will be able to think much about Brussels for the moment.”

Mr Bassett, who believes Ireland under Mr Varadkar stuck too close to the EU’s line during Brexit negotiations, explained: “There is no doubt that the Zappone affair has done serious damage to the coalition government and in particular the two Cork men, Taoiseach Micheal Martin and Simon Coveney.

“Both their long term political prospects have suffered.

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“Coveney tried to place Zappone in a non-existent job at the Irish delegation at the UN in a very ham-fisted way and compounded his mistake by clearly trying to cover up his actions. He deleted important texts and changed his story to suit new revelations.”

Mr Coveney had come off sounding “sounded narky and arrogant”, Mr Bassett, the author of Ireland and the EU Post Brexit, suggested.

He added: “The whole episode has cast a serious shadow over his judgment and has probably ended his prospects of becoming leader of his party.

“By the middle of this week, the arrogance was gone but so had much of his credibility.”

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Nevertheless, Mr Martin was entirely reliant on the support of Mr Coveney’s Fine Gael and therefore could not afford to alienate his party’s traditional rivals, emphasised Mr Bassett, who recently confirmed plans to seek a seat in Ireland’s Seanad, the equivalent of the House of Lords.

He said: “The Taoiseach has been shown to be powerless when it comes to his coalition partners, Fine Gael.

“With little personal support within his own Fianna Fail Parliamentary party and with the opinion polls showing disastrously low public approval, Martin knows a fall of the government will end his political career.

“If he moved to discipline Coveney, it might precipitate that fall of the government.

“Therefore the prospects are that this government will stagger on wounded but the opposition simply does not have the numbers to kill it off.”

Mr Martin yesterday criticised Sinn Fein’s plan to table the motion next week as “old-style naked opposition”.

He said: “Let’s be under no illusion – it’s an attempt to divide and conquer, and it’s a bit rich for Sinn Fein to be putting down a vote of no confidence on the issue of cronyism. One only has to look at how they performed in government – wholesale appointment of past ministers and former members.

“In terms of the Simon Coveney and the appointment of Katherine Zappone, I said that was wrong and I made that point and Simon Coveney has apologised to me.

“He’s gone before the Oireachtas committee twice and faced questions on that and has apologised to the Oireachtas committee.”

Mr Martin also claimed Ireland needed Mr Coveney in place because of his understanding of the issues surrounding the UK’s decision to quit the bloc.

He said: “Right now he’s involved with the Security Council, we have significant issues in Northern Ireland in the context of the Protocol, and we have Brexit.

“We need experience in that portfolio and, in my view, there needs to be, as I said, consistently from the outset, perspective and balance here.”

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