From top: Last Monday and Tuesday’s Irish Independent
Of the Independent’s subtle Fine Gael leadership campaign coverage…
Noel Whelan, writing in today’s Irish Times
Independent newspapers in particular seem determined to make relationship status an issue in this race. I have followed media coverage of Simon Coveney as closely as many political commentators over the past 16 years but I don’t think I have ever seen a picture of him with his wife or members of his family before the Independent decided to run one on its front or second page each day last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
These photos of Coveney were always juxtaposed beside one of Leo Varadkar on his own.
Independent newspapers have also run tittle-tattle stories about Varadkar’s own relationship and a series of columns devoted, at least in part, to suggesting that it matters who our taoiseach’s spouse would be.
It echoes the suggestion touted by Bertie Ahern’s opponents in the early 1990s that the “people needed to know where their taoiseach sleeps at night”. It was insidious then. One would have thought that 25 years later we would have moved on from such nonsense.
It is particularly strange that a newspaper would be doing this, whether for reasons of adding clickbait or colour to coverage of the leadership contest or due to other motives. We should judge our next taoiseach on his or her own ability to do the job and to exercise real authority and deliver stability to our politics. The sooner the changeover happens the better.
From top: RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke and Fine Gael Minister for Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney
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 Constitutionthat’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.”
This morning, newly appointed Housing Minister Simon Coveney spoke to Seán O’Rourke about housing on RTE Radio One this morning.
Towards the end of the interview, they discussed water charges – which will suspended for nine months, from the end of June, as a commission decides what to do.
The Fine Gael minister assured Mr O’Rourke, “I certainly agree that people who have paid already shouldn’t be disadvantaged financially in any way… People will not be allowed to get away without paying.”
Then Mr O’Rourke reminded Mr Coveney how Independent Alliance TD, who has been appointed a Super Junior Minister for Disability, Finian McGrath has not paid his water charges.
Being a ‘Super Junior’ minister means Mr McGrath can attend Cabinet meetings but cannot vote.
Grab a small tay…
Seán O’Rourke: “Meanwhile, sitting in the Cabinet room along with you and your colleagues, you have Finian McGrath who is proudly boasting that he has no intention of paying his water charges.”
Simon Coveney: “Well I haven’t seen him proudly boasting that and Finian will…”
O’Rourke: “Well stating as a matter of fact then, to put it maybe slightly less..”
Coveney: “Well now let’s not build this issue up into something it isn’t. I mean people should pay their water.”
O’Rourke: “It’s a minister flouting the law and he’s sitting in the same Cabinet room as you. Is that right?”
Coveney: “Well I think, you know,my view would be very similar to, to, you know, people like Regina Doherty and others who’ve been asked to comment on this.”
O’Rourke: “How can you expect people to pay water charges up until their suspended when you’re sitting beside somebody who just makes a virtue of not paying?”
Coveney: “Government minister should lead by example, it is the law to pay your taxes and Government ministers should pay taxes, including water charges and that’s a decision for Finian.”
O’Rourke: “It’s also a decision for the Taoiseach actually. Is he prepared to keep him in the room?”
Coveney: “Look, I mean, I’m not going to get into the Taoiseach’s view of that. I suspect the Taoiseach’s view is the same as mine. If you’re in Cabinet, you need to lead by example. If you’re a law maker, you need to be a law keeper.”
Acting agriculture minister Simon Coveney at the Ploughing Championships in Stradbally, Co Laois in 2014
Seán McCárthaigh in The Times Ireland edition reports:
Taxpayers have had to pick up an EU bill of almost €70 million in overpayments to Irish farmers mainly because the Department of Agriculture failed to accurately validate claims.
The farmers have been allowed to keep the money they were wrongly paid and the state has reimbursed the European Union through central funds.
The department claimed that high-resolution aerial photography was not available before 2012 to accurately measure whether farmers were submitting true assessments of their land holdings.
Only €4 million has been recouped from individual farmers as Simon Coveney, the agriculture minister, expressed his “clear preference” that the repayments should be funded through the exchequer.
Documents obtained by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act provide the full details of how the European Commission sought the return of €181 million in May 2014 for payments made between 2008 and 2014.
The department claimed that the figure should only be €31.1 million, but reached an agreement last November to pay back €68.9 million.
From top: Peter Sutherland and Simon Coveney at the Bilderberg Conference 2014; Simon Coveney launching the government’s white paper on the defence forces this morning.
A ‘soft’ draft.
Are we going to war?
Siobhan H writes:
In May 2014, Nato-cheerleader Peter Sutherland took Simon Coveney, to the Bilderberg Conference. High on the agenda was, eh, Nato with the supreme allied commander Europe in attendance. What the purpose of having a minister for agriculture there didn’t make too much sense at the time….
Two months later, Simon was given the job as Minister for Defence and today launches a white paper on defence that seeks a huge increase in funding for new technology, weapons, and the introduction of JobBridge soldiers [a new employment support scheme aimed at people in the 18-24 age group]. The question is who is behind this and where are we heading?
“I think there’s a lot of good people in Fianna Fail, I think I could work with them.People who support Fianna Fail in some ways probably have a lot in common with people who support Fine Gael.”
Fine Gael minister Simon Coveney
“I think there are fundamental differences between Fianna Fail and Fine Gail.The concentration by Fine Gael is on the better off in society, reducing taxation for the better off at the expense for the less well off in society.”
Farmers from around Ireland at the Department of Agriculture earlier protesting at the lack of action on farmers concerns “relating to the new GLAS [hydro] scheme and restrictions imposed in SAC [Specially Areas of Conservation]…”