‘It Sure As Hell Is Not Politics As Normal’

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From top: RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke and Fine Gael Minister for Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney

This morning.

RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke interviewed Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney on his show Today with Seán O’Rourke.

They discussed the resignation of Joe O’Toole, from his position as chair of the Water Commission following his comments that people should pay their water charges; Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace’s bill on Fatal Foetal Abnormality; and housing.

During the interview, Mr O’Rourke appeared to be particularly riled by the promises made by Independent Alliance TDs Shane Ross, Finian McGrath and John Halligan that they will not vote with the Government and, instead, support Mr Wallace’s bill this week.

He described the three TDs’ actions as driving “a coach and four through the traditionally understood interpretation of the Constitution that’s there in black and white.”

From the discussion…

Seán O’Rourke:Why didn’t you, as minister, say, ‘Joe, you overstepped the bounds of sensitive commentary here, you have to go’ instead of just hiding behind Fianna Fáil or looking over your shoulder at them?”

Simon Coveney: “I’m not hiding behind anything. I’m just telling you the truth. So, like, I’m not putting any political spin on this, Seán.”

O’Rourke: “Yeah but you seem to be suggesting that it would have been OK by you if he stayed.”

Coveney:Yeah. Well I mean I asked Joe to do this job. I think he would have done a very good job. He’s very experienced politically. I think he did make a mistake in terms of being overly forthright in terms of his own views but he was asking, or he was answering questions that he was asked. What he wanted to do was get his own personal views out of the way early and then get on with being an independent and open-minded chair. Which I think he could have done.”

O’Rourke: “Do you know at this stage..”

Coveney: “I’m not going to start putting a spin on this, that I demanded he go or anything. I explained the position…”

O’Rourke: “But maybe you should have…”

Coveney: “Well, I mean, you can decide whatever you want but…”

O’Rourke: “But I’m asking you…”

Coveney: “I asked Joe to do a job. I think he would have done a good job. I was willing to support him through the comments that he’s made in the last number of days because I can understand the context around that. But others weren’t. And the important, this isn’t like a lot of other political decisions that I have to make as a minister. The Water Commission has to have the confidence, in particular of the two big parties that actually put it together in the Confidence and Supply agreement. And, also, I think, I hope it needs to have the support of other parties as well. Some of them would have been campaigning against water charges, who would at least have an open mind to the outcome of that commission report. And you know there was a lot of criticism of Joe because of the comments that he made. But I mean ultimately, you know, if I didn’t have the support of the other major party, that put this proposal together, with Fine Gael, well there was going to be a problem and I’m just being upfront about that, that’s what happened.”

O’Rourke: “So here we are, we have a situation where it’s Fianna Fail rather than you, as the minister responsible for his departure, you also have a situation where, we don’t need to go through it all, where you have partners in Government who refuse to abide by the principle of Cabinet collective responsibility, as outlined in the Constitution or they have refused as well, to accept the advice of the Attorney General. I just have a question for you about the viability and the strength of this Government. I mean, and I’ll put it in maritime terms because I know they’re ones you’re very familiar with, as somebody who is a seaman, but how would you feel about going around the Mizen in a Ford Seat with Shane Ross and company in your crew?”

Coveney: “Look, first of all, can I say that anybody who thinks that politics in Ireland should be politics as normal, as if the Government had a majority which a Government would normally have, doesn’t understand the new realities of politics. We are in a minority government, we’re trying to give leadership in that environment. Sometimes we have to negotiate with Fianna Fail as a main opposition party in areas where we have a Confidence and Supply agreement like on water for example. There are many other areas where we have no agreement with Fianna Fáil. And Fine Gael and our partners in Government will put policy together and we will debate it and implement it and…”

O’Rourke: “And that’s all perfectly understandable but what sure as hell is not politics as normal is where Cabinet ministers can drive a coach and four…

Talk over each other

O’Rourke:Where Cabinet ministers can drive a coach and four through the traditionally understood interpretation of the Constitution that’s there in black and white.”

Coveney: “Yeah and this is not something that should happen often in Government. I mean what we have is…”

O’Rourke:Often? It should never happen, surely.”

Coveney: “Seán, could you let me answer the question. What’s happened here is arguably the most sensitive political issue, which is around abortion, termination of pregnancy in areas or in circumstances where we have a tragic diagnosis of Fatal Foetal Abnormality. And where we have two independent opposition TDs bringing forward a bill that in our view, in Government, is unconstitutional, on the advice of the Attorney General and that is why Fine Gael’s position on this is absolutely clear. We have an agreed Government approach to trying to resolve this issue through a Citizens’ Assembly that will make recommendations that Fine Gael has agreed to have a free vote on at the end of that process, to try and bring a more permanent and real solution to this problem. In my view, what Mick Wallace is doing here is proposing a piece of legislation that will have no effect whatsoever in terms of outcome should it be introduced because it is unconstitutional and therefore won’t work. We have a Chief Medical Officer, to the Government and to the Department of Health, saying that this bill will not work and so, what Fine Gael wants to do is actually address this issue in all of its complexity and have an outcome that can help women who are in crisis. Unfortunately, what’s happened here is there’s a difference of opinion in Government…”

O’Rourke: “Yes but…”

Coveney: “The Independent Alliance, most of their members have already voted for this legislation when it was previously brought before the Dáil a number of months ago…”

O’Rourke: “And that’s all been well rehearsed, that’s well understood minister but essentially what the position here now seems to be, because it is such a sensitive issue, those ministers and members of your partners in Government, be they Cabinet or just beneath Cabinet level, are being told, ‘ok, because it’s so sensitive, you can do that on this occasion’ but they’ve been given a stern warning as to future behaviour but sure nobody will take that seriously.”

Coveney: “Well I think they will take it seriously because if we’re going to have a coherent government, you do need to take collective Cabinet responsibility seriously. And it’s important that the Government sticks together. And I think, you know, with what the Taoiseach said this week and I support him very strongly, you know, in a minority situation, in particular in a minority situation, a Government needs to stick together, you need to have collegiality and a Government needs to take a collective approach but there are circumstances and we have them this week, on an issue like Fatal Foetal Abnormality, and a piece of legislation relating to it where the independents feel that they want the freedom to be able to vote according to their conscience, is what they would say…”

O’Rourke: “Have you got assurances from them…”

Talk over each other

Coveney: “When the work of the Citziens’ Assembly is done and when those recommendations are made to the Oireachtas and when we are voting on those recommendations, at some later point, which won’t be the far distant future, Fine Gael will also have no whip in that situation because people will be allowed to vote according to their conscience…”

O’Rourke: “Right, but just before we move on…”

Coveney: “The difference here is that there is an expectation being built up that, actually, this bill can solve problems for women and, in our view, it can’t which is why we’re voting against it and we’re going to have a process underway that can deal with this in a more comprehensive and more sensible way.”

O’Rourke:Have you, and has the Taoiseach more importantly, got an assurance from Shane Ross that the principle of Cabinet collective responsibility, or collective Cabinet responsibility, will be adhered to into the future after this one-off exception?

Coveney: “Well I think there’s an understanding that this a one-off exception. I don’t think we’re going to have a repeat of this very often. And I think there’s an understanding across the Cabinet…”

O’Rourke:A one-off that won’t be repeated very often doesn’t sound like a very reassuring kind of understanding.”

Coveney: “Well I’m just, I’m just telling you that any, there’s nothing in writing here but I think the Taoiseach made it very clear, the responsibilities that members of Government have…”

O’Rourke: “Yeah, it shouldn’t actually need to be in writing.”

Coveney: “…that is protected by the Constitution and it’s our job as a Government to actually act in a way that’s consistent with the Constitution so, you know, what’s happening this week is not going to be a regular occurrence, I can assure you.”

Listen back to the interview in full here

Previously: ‘If This Is Let Slide, It Will Be Very Serious For The Attorney General’

28 thoughts on “‘It Sure As Hell Is Not Politics As Normal’

  1. ahjayzis

    O’Rourke and the likes of Fionnan Fitzgurrrrrld are more estbalishment and old politics than the actual establishment old politicians. The media should never be more rigid and conservative than the politicians. Useless spanners.

    1. Sheik Yahbouti

      True. They love it because most of them are arch conservatives who are very comfortable with their stagnant ‘certainties’. They fancy themselves as part of the club, and several notches above us peasants who must be propagandised and directed – for our own good, of course.

      1. topsy

        Listen to the interview like I did. I’ve heard this man man speak many times, duck, dive, dodge and weave. What’s his opinion Ansbacher?

  2. Nigel

    Yes, invoke the words of The Liberator as antithetical to your government. That’ll show us where you stand alright.

  3. Turgenev

    We’d all like to see normal, crony-free politics, with politicians acting for the benefit of the population.

      1. Nigel

        Why not? Maybe repeated demonstrations of what could be achieved might make the electorate take notice.

      2. ahjayzis

        When did the Supreme Court rule on the constitutionality of this? Must of missed it.

  4. Eoin

    ‘Ok Sean here’s your propaganda brief for today. Try to steer the conversation away from Irish Water and corruption/ cronyism and onto something more social/ moral, like abortion. See if you can slag off the AAA and independents aswell. Oh and don’t forget to demonize anyone in the UK who voted for Brexit’.
    I’ll pay for my propaganda through RTE because I’m made do so by law but I will not tune in.

    1. bisted

      …and feel free to interupt Chilcot talking with important stuff like footballers evading tax…

  5. Tish Mahorey

    O’Rourke the braying establishment donkey. He is supposed to present current affairs in an impartial manner according to RTE’s public charter. Yet his political leanings are very clear to regular listeners which is unacceptable for a public broadcaster which must serve the needs of citizens, not sectional interests.

  6. f

    O’Rourke: “Have you, and has the Taoiseach more importantly, got an assurance from Shane Ross that the principle of Cabinet collective responsibility, or collective Cabinet responsibility, will be adhered to into the future after this one-off exception?”

    Nobody in the meeja has noticed that Halligan, Ross and McGrath voted against the Government last week on Maureen O’Sullivan’s Hare Coursing Bill. Which is strange, given how many Pol Corrs are stationed in Leinster House…

  7. Martco

    Coveney reminds me of many of the lads I have to work alongside these days….in fact he’d slot in just great in the “SMT” of any typical US corporate based in Ireland….they start off grand just like yourself then decide to do the 4 year IMI thing with accelerated progression in the organisation and hey presto corporate drone you could organise your bullsh/t bingo card off
    I smile every time I think of him sitting down for Sunday dinner with the fam….( must be a sketch about that somewhere that’s my next hour sorted ha)

    1. jambon

      What is an “SMT”? What is an “IMI”? what does “organise your bullsh/t bingo card off” mean?

      “the lads I have to work alongside these days” … I think you’re talking about yourself, lad.

  8. DubLoony

    Is the constitution optional now?
    Has Coveny just admitted that the government acted in a manner repugnant to the constitution?

    1. ahjayzis

      Oh god save us, it’ll be civil war on the streets!

      I mean, we have a bent and utterly corrupt police force, NAMA is under investigation the world over, charity bosses are enriching themselves and murders and disappearances are happily unsolved for decades but this is REAL dangerous to democracy stuff.

    2. ahjayzis

      Being instructed to vote against something because it is *deemed* on the basis of *advice* to be unconstitutional is the unconstitutional bit. The AG has no final say on the matter. If the only hurdle is the possible constitutionality, the answer is to put it to the SC.

      This wasn’t in the PfG – you’re demanding Shane Ross and anyone else not in Fine Gael, take orders from Enda on any issue he sees fit, whenever he sees fit. That might have been Labour’s supine position, but you can’t expect it of everyone, backbones exist, it’s a minority government and a coalition.

    3. Continuity Jay-Z

      Relax, the Constitution is just a think-piece now. Check the EU statutes and decide if what the government is doing is repugnent to that.

  9. Mulder

    Coveney, nice but dim and likely the next leader of FG.
    Then look at what currently leads that party.

    1. Otis Blue

      I can’t share your enthusiasm for that creep. The dim but nice persona doesn’t cut it. Neither does the Clongovian born to lead shtick. He’ll lead nothing.

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