Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science
A spokesperson for Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has denied claims made in the Dáil that he leaked the appointment of Katherine Zappone to a special envoy position within the UN from a Cabinet meeting.
The claim was sensationally made under Dáil privilege by Sinn Féin deputy Matt Carthy.
He was speaking on Wednesday evening on the Confidence Motion laid down by his party in Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney over his handling of the Zappone appointment.
Deputy Carthy said: "Rather than deal with the debacle, Fine Gael ran a sting operation to expose that the Minister, Deputy Harris, had leaked the appointment from the Cabinet meeting because that is how business is done."
He also blasted the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Green government for "cronyism," adding that under their government, "appointments to public bodies, right up to the Supreme Court, are decided not by what you know but who you know."
He urged the house to vote no confidence in Simon Coveney as a result. Minister Coveney later won the confidence motion by 92 votes to 59 despite the resignation of Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry from the parliamentary party.
According to the Irish Times, a spokesperson for Simon Harris later denied the leak claims made by Deputy Carthy, saying it was simply untrue and that Deputy Carthy's actions were "a clear misuse of Dáil privilege."
Defending himself before the vote, Minister Coveney said: "I never thought I would find myself in the middle of a debate like this one. Given the magnitude of the issues this House needs to deal with, including the removal of Covid restrictions, the pressures on healthcare delivery across the country, the launching of the most ambitious new housing plan in history, Ireland's chairing of the UN Security Council at a crucial time, and the ongoing pressures in Northern Ireland relating to the Brexit protocol, the legacy of the past, the threat to the very existence of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and the possible early collapse of the Executive and the assembly, it seems scarcely credible that a short-lived Government appointment of a part-time special envoy should be dominating our focus on the first day back after the summer break, but here we are.
"I take my share of blame for this debate. For six weeks now, the appointment of Katherine Zappone and the issues related to it have been the focus of media and political commentary. In truth, I should have and could have dealt with this issue much more comprehensively in early August, after it became controversial following a Government decision.
"I want to say to every one of my colleagues in this House but, in particular, to my partners in government, that I regret that this issue has distracted from the important work we have been trying to do and I regret the mistakes made by me in advance of the Cabinet decision and subsequently in terms of not clearing these issues up earlier. I have apologised to the Taoiseach and to my colleagues, and I do so again this evening to everybody in this House," he continued.
He then took a swipe at the party bringing the motion, Sinn Féin.
"Sinn Féin is not attempting to hold the Government or me to account tonight, or even to establish truth. Deputy McDonald is not trying to get answers in this debate or achieve anything positive as regards what really happened here and how we can improve things for the future," he said.
"This is a political tactic to try to extend a political controversy and to reinforce a false narrative of cronyism to damage relations in this Government. Sinn Féin is doing what it does so often, North and South - stoking tension with an exaggerated narrative in an effort to create anger, resentment and division, not just in this House or in the Government, but across society more generally."
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald retorted from across the chamber: "The Minister has learned nothing, absolutely nothing."
She also said, "no lesson learned" as Simon Coveney continued speaking, to which the embattled Fine Gael Minister replied, "the Deputy is a hypocrite."
A rollcall vote was then held with the Ceann Comhairle later announcing the result.
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