Confidence in Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence: Motion

The next item is a motion regarding confidence in the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence. It is due to conclude within 110 minutes and any division demanded will be taken immediately. Before we commence, I wish to remind Members of certain rules of debate. It is a long-standing rule that allegations of a serious nature against an officeholder can only be made by substantive motion in the House, which is a point I believe I made earlier today. A motion of confidence cannot be used as a vehicle to allow Members to make serious allegations by innuendo or otherwise without notice across the floor of the House.

In the interests of fair procedure, any Member is entitled to have notice of any allegations to be made in order to have time to prepare a considered response. While a motion of confidence invariably gives rise to charges of a political nature, it is not in order to impugn the character, good name or integrity of any Member. The character of the Minister is not the issue in this motion; what is at issue is the matter of confidence in the Minister as Minister. As we are all pretty clear on the rules of engagement, I call the Taoiseach followed by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and they have 15 minutes between them.

I move:

"That Dáil Éireann has confidence in the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Simon Coveney T.D.”

A motion seeking the removal of a member of Government is a serious matter. Since the foundation of the State, Dáil Éireann has held that these motions are the most serious that can be tabled. They are supposed to mark an important statement on fundamental policy failures or a serious legal issue. The sad reality is that the issue of confidence in the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence before the House this evening has nothing to do with any of this. It has nothing to do with seeking to protect the State or assert the rule of law. It most certainly has nothing to do with the refusal to be accountable to the Oireachtas and the Irish people. No questions have been ignored. It has nothing to do with asserting a sincerely held point of principle about misconduct or the abuse of office. Let us be clear that we are debating this motion because one party decided that it was a handy way to get publicity and deliver populist, partisan attacks.

There is no question or doubt about the substantive issues in this controversy; they are uncontested. The position involved was intended to be part time and awarded no permanent benefits to anyone. There is no allegation of a benefit being sought for or conferred on any officeholder. Ultimately, as we know, no one was appointed to the role.

However, as I stressed from the beginning, there is an important matter and it is a perfectly legitimate issue of public concern. The creation of this role and the attempt to appoint an individual to it was handled carelessly and badly. As the House will be aware, the Minister has apologised to me, his ministerial colleagues, the Oireachtas and the public on a number of occasions for his handling of the matter. He has accepted that I should have been informed of the proposal in good time and that the procedures followed were unacceptable. Procedures that were not properly followed were strengthened and where they were missing have been introduced. The Minister and the Tánaiste have published extensive material, including text messages and departmental emails, about all matters relating to the appointment. The Minister has also twice appeared without delay before an Oireachtas committee and answered lengthy and detailed questions. His handling of this appointment was wrong but by any fair measure it would be completely out of proportion to remove a Minister on the basis of what is involved in this matter. As I have said, I have received private and public apologies for the failure to provide appropriate notice of this proposal. More important, procedures have been put in place to ensure this never happens again.

This is a coalition Government of three distinct parties, which are seeking to work together on behalf of the Irish people. One of the most important roles for the Taoiseach in a Government such as this is to seek to sort out problems rather than to exploit them for some short-term gain. In this case, the problem has been addressed. There has been no reluctance to accept accountability and action has been taken to prevent any recurrence. My primary focus is, and has been, to lead a Government that is delivering change at a radical pace even while handling once-in-a-century public health crisis.

In demanding the removal of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Sinn Féin has made a long series of statements about what standards it believes should be implemented. It is important to address this issue of standards that Sinn Féin says should be basic in any government. Sinn Féin has at no point raised any concern with how the Minister has been fulfilling his duties. There is no allegation before the House that he has neglected or mishandled any of the major issues under his supervision, some of which have seen him work directly with Sinn Féin. The motion is before us because we are being asked to accept that the non-appointment of Katherine Zappone to a temporary and part-time envoy position was a gross abuse of office. This is manifestly not the case and Sinn Féin is seeking to demand a standard of accountability that goes well beyond anything that party has ever been willing to practice in its 50-year history up to and including its current officeholders.

Some of the statements that Deputy McDonald has made in the past few days are genuinely breathtaking in their cynicism and the double standards involved. She even went as far as to say yesterday that her party had been forced into tabling the motion because it was not "prepared to look the other way". Is Sinn Féin not prepared to look the other way? This debate is simply not long enough for us to go through the list of dramatically worse and often sinister events where looking the other way has been the defining essence of the Sinn Féin response.

It is important, however, to address the specific issue of appointments. There is only one party in this House, which refused to act on a fair employment tribunal judgement that one of their Ministers appointed someone to the chair of an important public body because "he was not from a Protestant background and because he was known to the minister and his ministerial colleagues". The Minister involved faced no sanction from his party leader and he remains at the very top of the Sinn Féin organisation.

Anyone who pays any attention to appointments which are at the discretion of Sinn Féin Ministers has known that for a long time that such appointments very rarely go anywhere other than to current or former public representatives, advisers and supporters. In the case of North-South bodies, Sinn Féin only ever nominates its own people. This goes far beyond North-South bodies. For example, when the acting Sinn Féin Minister for Communities was looking for someone to appoint to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, where did she go? She went to the party and appointed her former ministerial colleague, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. There are many more examples of this, every one of which is less transparent and more consequential than the part-time envoy non-appointment the party is attacking.

In this, as in every other area of public life in this country, it seems that as far as Sinn Féin is concerned accountability is for other people. Its partitionist approach of having radically different core principles on either side of the Border will some day catch up with it. There will come a point where more broadcasters decides to stop allowing the hypocrisy to go unchallenged. It is simply remarkable, for instance, that genuine scandals reported by programmes such as BBC Northern Ireland’s "Spotlight" have been ignored in coverage in the Republic. In various interviews in recent days, Deputy McDonald has attacked me and Fianna Fáil, always casually ignoring much more serious issues, which she will not even acknowledge. There is something genuinely unique about the ability to say on the national airwaves, "I certainly don't know many millionaires", when she leads what has been for many years Ireland’s wealthiest party, which organises fundraising among the very wealthy in New York every year, and is accepting more than €3 million in a single bequest. What would happen to any of the Government parties or indeed any other party or independent individual here if they had moved a multi-million euro bequest out of the country, from a man of no-fixed-abode who lived in a caravan, in order to accept it and to avoid any tax on it. Can one imagine this?

Sinn Féin did not propose to remove the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence because of any standards it advocates or implements. It saw a political opportunity and was confident that its own behaviour would not be questioned.

There is important work to do in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the errors that were made have been addressed.

There has been full transparency, and every reasonable question has been responded to. Procedures have been tightened to ensure that this will not happen again. The Minister has apologised and I have accepted his apology.

Our country is emerging from a once-in-a-century pandemic. Our society and our economy are reopening and have to be renewed. I am proud of the work Fianna Fáil and the other Government parties are doing in this regard. With the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, we have fundamentally transformed the State's approach to homebuilding in response to a housing crisis. With the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, we have begun a process of profound reform of our health services. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, is concluding a comprehensive review of the country's national development plan, investing in services and projects for the long term, and we are preparing for a budget that will drive forward our recovery from the pandemic. The Minister, Deputy Foley, has ensured that our children are safely back at school, with significant funding to mitigate the damage Covid has done to the learning environment and to their education. Our young people are back enjoying third level education on campus. The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, is ensuring that our farmers, agrifood producers, rural communities and fishing communities are protected for the future, particularly by the environmental schemes, which have been oversubscribed. As a Government, we are transforming the apprenticeship sector, introducing real insurance reform, improving mental health services and radically changing services for older people and citizens with disabilities for the better.

Sinn Féin will play its games. My party, Fianna Fáil, and the three-party coalition Government will do what we were elected to do: we will work every month we have to improve the quality of people's lives and to build up our country.

The Green Party will vote confidence in the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Government this evening. I have known Deputy Coveney for some time. He was already an experienced Deputy when I first came here in 2002. After spending time as a Member of the European Parliament, he came back here as an Opposition spokesperson when I was Minister. He was tough and gruelling but he is fair, knowledgeable, committed and sincere in all the dealings I have had with him.

I have seen the Minister's work on Brexit. Anyone here involved in anything to do with Brexit will have seen the very open way in which the Minister involved other parties and every section of our society in our approach to Brexit. That shows what a capable Minister for Foreign Affairs he has been and is at present. I am working with Deputy Coveney on the likes of the UN Security Council at the moment, at a critical time in this country's history, when we can address key issues like climate change, as the Minister is doing in the UN Security Council and elsewhere.

We need Ministers who can take initiative and who are willing sometimes to push the boundaries of what can be done. That was typical in terms of approaching the former Minister, Katherine Zappone, to take on this critical role involving freedom of expression and LGBTQ rights. That was not an unimportant job we were looking to get someone for, and I can see absolutely why a Minister might say to himself or herself, when considering that role, "Katherine Zappone would be a good person for that job."

I also want to speak-----

(Interruptions).

I want to speak, if I may, about her good name and her good reputation. I recall sitting in one of those seats at the back of the House when she decided to go into government. That same willingness for public service was, I believe, behind her desire to take on this role, one for which she was eminently qualified. I remember her, in those days before she was well known or in the Dáil or the Seanad, taking a lonely path with her partner into the courts to stand up for equal rights and marriage equality when no one else was willing to do so in a public way. That makes her a very good person and well qualified, to my mind, to be a special envoy on freedom of expression and LGBTQ rights.

There were problems with this process, as the Taoiseach has said and as the Tánaiste acknowledged immediately to us. Yes, we have to call that out, and we did. However, I will make a couple of points. First, as I said, you need Ministers with initiative but you also need a check, and the check is often in the Department. The public service job is to pull up Ministers and say, "Hold on a second here. We have to follow right and due process." As I can see, however, from listening to the Oireachtas committee hearings and elsewhere, the Departments had a similar view to the Minister's in this case; that is, that Ms Zappone would be a good person for this role. It was not the case that the Departments were trying to hold back the Minister; they were working with the Minister to deliver. That is very significant, to my mind, in the context of what took place.

We were surprised, as the Taoiseach said at the time. We do not discuss what goes on in Cabinet, but he was the first to say in Cabinet, as was I - his experience of this and mine are absolutely mirrored - that the process was not correct. We are right to draw attention to that and to investigate it, as the Oireachtas committee has done. However, I will vote confidence not only in the Minister as a person but also in the Government. This is a functioning Government. As the Tánaiste said, where surprises exist you pull the other parties up and say, "Hold on a second here. What is happening?". You also have to have good faith, which does exist. This is a functioning Government which in its first year has put through 62 pieces of legislation. Compare that with any other jurisdiction or any other parliament. Deputy McDonald will understand how dysfunctional government can be. How many pieces of legislation have been put through Stormont in the past year? We have important work to do, including in delivering the housing we are committed to delivering and in delivering fundamental change in our climate action plan and a new national development plan.

Thank you, Minister. Your time is up.

In my experience, that is what the people want us to address, not the order of business we see presented tonight.

We are here this evening because of the culture of cronyism at the very heart of this Government. We are here because the Taoiseach refuses to do his job. He refuses to hold the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to account. The Minister sought to make up a job for a friend and former colleague and, when caught red-handed, he went about covering his tracks. He destroyed records he was obliged to keep under law and twice fed a cock-and-bull story to a committee of the Oireachtas. This is by any standard an abuse of office.

Sinn Féin was left with no option but to move a no-confidence motion. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil go to great lengths, as does the Green Party, it seems, to cast this fiasco as a non-issue. They want people to tune out and to sweep all this under the carpet. The deluded response from the Taoiseach as Leader of the Government this evening is proof positive that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have held power for far too long. The cronyism they now so loudly defend is precisely the brand of culture that has squandered the hopes of generations. It is why governments have come and gone but nothing has really changed. It is why the basics are denied still to so many: an affordable home, access to healthcare, a decent living. These failures persist not by accident but because the Government parties govern for vested interests and those at the top. Let us face it: they clubbed together to form this shambolic, out-of-touch Government because they could not countenance the idea that a new generation might get what they denied to that generation's parents and grandparents before them, that is, political change and a government that acts in the interests of citizens. They simply could not stomach that because they believe that government belongs to them and their circle. They believe that power is their right. They believe that they and only they are entitled to govern and, for them, ordinary people are to be kept outside, far away from power. This is all about power: who has it, who wields it and who has access to it. This fiasco demonstrates again that the well-connected can literally have access to the highest level of government at the touch of a button. However, those denied their rights and those campaigning for services are locked out and ignored. I refer to those who regularly stand outside the Dáil protesting just to get the ear of the Government. I mean citizens with disabilities, carers, children waiting for surgery, families in Donegal and beyond whose houses are literally crumbling around them - the list is endless. These, in my view, are the voices deserving of being heard by the Government, but the truth is that they are drowned out by the politics of cronyism.

Tá sé thar am d'athrú. Tá glúin nua ag éirí chun a mbua a bhaint amach. Diúltaíonn siad a gcoinneáil siar leis an aicme pholaitiúil atá ag iarraidh greim a choinneáil ar an am atá caillte agus ar an gcumhacht atá scaoilte.

The Ministers, Deputies Ryan and Coveney, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, should not tell people this does not matter, that this is not serious and this does not affect people's lives. Tonight is about the Minister, Deputy Coveney, but it is also about their toxic culture, that culture they fester in government. It is about their rotten way of doing business that has robbed so many of a decent life, and it goes to the heart of how politics has been conducted in this State for decades. That must end here tonight because this generation wants and deserves far better. We will have an Ireland that matches the ambition of our people, an Ireland driven by equality and equality only, an Ireland where the right to a home, to healthcare and to a fair economy is the bedrock of our decent society and our brighter future.

I say to all Deputies who will line up this evening in defence of cronyism that they might delay change but they will not stop it. The days of the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael cosy club are numbered. They can have the past; that belongs to them. But the future belongs to the ordinary people of this country. A new and united Ireland is coming, and I for one look forward with hope and enthusiasm to that day when we will have a real 32-county republic and a government of change that really serves the people.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has brought an unbelievable story to this House. His narrative, essentially, is that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, contacted him to tell him that Katherine Zappone was looking for a UN gig and he then made contact with her. He says she did not lobby him or ask him for a job. Almost immediately afterwards, however, he had a conversation with his Secretary General in which he outlined his great new idea about a new UN envoy for something or other. The Minister then contacted Katherine Zappone and told her about his great new idea. He says he absolutely did not offer her the job he had just made up. Nevertheless, after not being offered that job, Ms Zappone texted him to thank him for the incredible opportunity. By the Minister's account, either he is a very bad communicator or Katherine Zappone is a dope. Not only did she misunderstand him regarding the job offer, she even thought she had a start date. When the Minister was not replying to her, she went as far as to contact everybody she could get a hold of to put the skids on it, including the Irish ambassador to the UN and even the Tánaiste.

What did the Minister do about this person who could not understand a simple conversation and who repeatedly went over his head to pressure him? He offered her that job he says he had not offered her previously. Anyone who expects the people to swallow that story is either a dope or thinks the rest of us are, because the truth is much more obvious. A former Minister wanted a job that would get her access within the UN and her Fine Gael friends bent over backwards to make it happen. The Minister made up a job that was not necessary and he expected Irish taxpayers to pay for it. He allowed Katherine Zappone to draft her own job description, deleted information he was legally obliged to protect and wasted his Department's resources and staff time to justify all those actions retrospectively. He brought the appointment to Cabinet without first informing his coalition partners, but they signed off, probably in the knowledge that at some point in the future they would want to do a favour for one of their friends because that is how Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil do business. In fact, for hours, days and even weeks in some cases, out-of-touch Ministers could not understand what all the fuss was about, and it appears some Ministers still have that affliction. The Taoiseach will recall that on day one, he told us to move on. The Minister himself went on radio and arrogantly told the media not to create new stories. 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.

Appointments to public bodies, right up to the Supreme Court, are decided not by what you know but who you know. Public finances are spent and policy decisions are made on the basis not of what is in the best interests of workers and families but of who has access and who is on the inside track. That is why we have a housing crisis. It is why Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael always deliver for developers, speculators and vulture funds rather than those who need homes. It is why we continue to have a two-tier health service where personal wealth rather than healthcare needs can determine whether a person has access to the treatment he or she requires. It is why Irish families and workers are fleeced with the highest mortgage rates in the eurozone and among the highest rents, insurance, childcare and utility costs in the world. It is why we need change. It is why we need to bring an end to cronyism, back room deals and insider politics. It is why this House should vote no confidence in the Minister, Deputy Coveney. It should also vote no confidence in the Government and in the old-style, failed, corrupt politics that have been the hallmark of this State for too long. The people deserve better.

In a parliamentary democracy, the tabling of a motion of no confidence in a member of Government is a most serious matter, one that goes to the heart of our responsibilities as a House under the Constitution to hold the Government to account. Such a motion has been tabled, and I will set out the Labour Party's position on this unfortunate affair. The facts of the issues at hand are clear from the documents published by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Those facts are that the former Minister, Katherine Zappone, actively sought a role after leaving office, initially with USAID by seeking an introduction to Samantha Power, and contacted her former Government colleagues to that end. Subsequently, she sought a role with the United Nations as an Irish special envoy. The text messages of 26 February from Ms Zappone to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in response to his phone call to her was a checklist of her qualifications for the job. Her text message of 4 March was a clear appreciation of being offered the role and sought the specifics of her appointment duration. There is simply no other way of reading those text messages. The Minister denies he made the job offer in late February and does not see Ms Zappone's communications as lobbying, and therein lies the difficulty. He cannot accept that in response to a request from a former ministerial colleague, he created a new position without reference to his partners in government and offered it to her.

I happen to believe that a special envoy on freedom of opinion and expression is a very good idea in the current world, an idea that should usefully be debated in this House and that would attract many excellent candidates, no doubt Ms Zappone among them, but that is not how this matter was handled. Many Members, and indeed commentators, have rightly said in recent weeks that there are more important and pressing issues to discuss, such as the future of Sláintecare, the climate crisis or the new housing plan for Ireland, but underpinning all major policy initiatives is the requirement to maintain public confidence in the way politicians do the people's business. In government, the Labour Party introduced the reformed Freedom of Information Act, the Regulation of Lobbying Act and legislation protecting whistleblowers, all designed to ensure transparency in public administration, but cultural and behavioural change is difficult to legislate for.

These are not small or irrelevant matters. Trump won by eroding confidence in government. His calls to "drain the swamp" struck a chord with people who had lost their trust in politicians.

We see evidence of that happening in Europe, too. Ironically, nobody is more attuned to and aware of that than the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Ministers, no more than anyone else, make mistakes and make misjudgments. What is required when that happens is a full ventilation of the truth. Had that happened from the outset, I do not believe we would be having this debate tonight. However, that is not what happened. That is plain for all to see. No more than Donald Trump, the Government and the Minister are not entitled to their alternative facts. Public confidence in politics itself is under attack across the world, and this sorry affair damages all of us.

The Labour Party, from the outset of this Government, expressed no confidence in this Administration. We will do so again this evening. However, I hope, in the expectation the Government will win the vote tonight, that it will not be taken by the Government as somehow an expression that what happened is acceptable in any way. I would hope the true spirit of the legislation on freedom of information, the regulation of lobbying and the protection of whistleblowers is put into effect and those assurances are given to this House tonight.

The next contributor is the Tánaiste, who is sharing time with the Minister for Justice, Deputy Humphreys.

It is an honour for me this evening to express my full confidence in my friend and colleague, Deputy Simon Coveney.

I first met Simon 23 years ago, when I was canvassing for him in the Cork South-Central by-election, following the tragic death of his father, Hugh. I know nobody more committed to public service than him. Since then, he has served with distinction as a Member of this House, as a Minister, and as a Member of the European Parliament. We were both appointed to the Cabinet in 2011 and Simon subsequently served as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Minister for Defence, Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and now as Minister for Foreign Affairs and for Defence. He has always put the long-term interests of the Irish people ahead of any short-term political considerations. He is a reservoir of patience and kindness and he always has his eye on the big objective, whether it is the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, negotiations and defending the rights and needs of farmers, the programme for Government negotiations - the Government with Fine Gael independence would never have happened were it not for him - negotiations with parties in Northern Ireland, or ongoing negotiations in relation to Brexit. He is diligent, knowledgeable, sincere, supportive and loyal. On the toughest days and at the toughest times, I have been fortunate to have him as a Government colleague and Deputy. Simon is someone with a deep commitment to human rights and he has put that commitment at the centre of our foreign policy, whether it is in the Middle East, Afghanistan or in the Mediterranean during the refugee crisis.

We made mistakes when it came to the proposed appointment of former Minister Katherine Zappone as special envoy, and he and I have acknowledged and apologised for our mistakes in that regard. There does, however, need to be some balance. Sinn Féin knows full well that without Simon Coveney's tireless and endless work that he put in with the parties in Northern Ireland and the British Government, there would not have been New Decade, New Approach - NDNA, as people call it. Without him, Michelle O'Neill would not be the deputy First Minister today and there would not be an Executive in Northern Ireland.

That is some claim.

He put back together the Executive Sinn Féin collapsed in a tactical act of arrogance, leaving Northern Ireland without a voice for three years during the Brexit negotiations. He deserves their thanks and their respect, not their opprobrium. Sinn Féin knows the work he put in to ensure there was no hard border on our island. Yet, they seek tonight to hound an honourable man out of office for cheap publicity and political gain.

In politics we will always have disagreements and debates, but there also needs to be a sense of proportion and balance. If everything is a disgrace or a crisis or a scandal, well then nothing really is. As this House returns, we will face discussions on big issues, like the new national development plan, on health, on housing, on climate, on budget 2023, to name but five. Surely, on our first day back, this is what we should be focusing on. I believe it is what most people want us to focus on. Only Sinn Féin feels differently.

Simon leads our Government’s efforts on the UN Security Council and on the continuing discussions around Brexit and the protocol. Is it seriously being suggested it is in the interests of this country that he be removed at this crucial time? It was the Government of which Simon and I were Members that reformed the process by which public appointments were made, running them through the Public Appointments Service, PAS, system. We see elsewhere on this island what happens when a system like that is absent. We brought in legislation to regulate lobbying and a clear definition as to what lobbying is and what it is not.

(Interruptions).

Also, we brought in legislation to protect whistleblowers.

We ended the link between big money” and politics, effectively banning corporate donations and donations of big money from wealthy individuals. Only one party in this House - Sinn Féin - flouts this law, in spirit and perhaps and letter, by routing its grubby millions through the United States and the United Kingdom. No other party does that. We know Sinn Féin collects and retains and perhaps even deletes data on its Abú system, without the consent of the data subjects.

That is a serious charge.

We know from the renewable heat incentive, RHI, inquiry how Sinn Féin Ministers handle confidential government documents and records. We know that when it comes to public appointments in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin operates an international centre of excellence when it comes to cronyism.

I do not make these points to understate the mistakes that were made, but rather I make them-----

I think the interruptions and the curse words are indicative of the fact the truth really hurts Sinn Féin. The truth really hurts Sinn Féin.

(Interruptions).

The mask slips as well, when it is not on. I repeat, a Cheann Comhairle, that I do not make these points to understate the fact mistakes were made nor to avoid accountability for them but rather to ask for balance and proportionality. Sinn Féin does not meet its own standards as a political party or as a government in the North. If we cannot have confidence in Simon Coveney, how can we possibly have confidence in Deputy Pearse Doherty, their treasurer, who is responsible for all their financial affairs, or in Minister Conor Murphy, the only politician on this island who has been found by an independent body to have acted with a degree of cronyism and sectarianism in a public appointment and yet he still serves in office today? How could we possibly have confidence in the person who presides above it all and turns a blind eye to it all, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald?

We should all be conscious that the public is watching and listening what is going on here, so let us behave, all of us, with a little bit of decorum.

At the outset, it important to say the past few weeks have not been Fine Gael’s finest hour. I am disappointed that at a time when we should have been talking about one of the most successful vaccination roll-outs in the world, about our economy reopening and about hundreds of thousands of people getting back to work, we have instead spent most of the last eight weeks talking about somebody who lost their seat in the previous election. We have nobody to blame for that but ourselves. It is important we acknowledge that tonight. This is not the fault of Fianna Fáil or the Green Party. This was Fine Gael who dropped the ball. We accept that here tonight. When you make a mistake, you hold your hands up and you admit that you got it wrong. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has done that. This has been badly handled. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, accepts that and he has apologised.

However, can I ask a question? Is there anybody in this House who would seriously question the integrity of Simon Coveney?

He is one of the most decent men you could meet.

You only have to look at his record-----

No. Sorry, Minister. You cannot come in here and impugn a Member in that manner, Deputy Murphy. I ask you to withdraw that statement.

He told untruths.

Minister, please proceed.

As someone who comes from just outside Clones, a few miles from the Border, I know the genuine fear that existed in communities at the prospect of a hard border returning to this island. There was one person more than anybody who fought on Ireland's behalf to ensure that did not happen. That was Simon Coveney. Often, that meant leaving his young family at three or four o'clock in the morning to travel across Europe, fostering relations with our EU neighbours and ensuring Ireland’s interests were protected in the Brexit negotiations. Sinn Féin knows Simon Coveney served this country well on Brexit. It also knows the work he put in to ensure the Executive in Northern Ireland got back up and running.

When cool heads, perseverance and patience was needed, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, was there for the people of the Border region. He put in the hard yards to get the institutions going again.

Sinn Féin Members know very well the work the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has done on Northern Ireland. They know the work he has done on Brexit and yet when the chance comes to score cheap political points in tonight's motion they just could not resist. Sinn Féin still cannot put the national interest before party interest. It is disappointing but not surprising. Nor were the speeches by Sinn Féin Members tonight surprising. We had the usual sound bites about golden circles and looking after the elite. Fine Gael is no party of elites. They should come to my office in Monaghan, to the office of Deputy Carey in Clare, to the office of the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, or to the office of Deputy Ring.

(Interruptions).

Fine Gael is a party full of ordinary decent public representatives doing their best for the people they represent. We were not born with silver spoons in our mouths. We are very much out there on the ground. We are in touch with people. We are helping people with housing, medical cards and the issues that matter.

I thank the Minister; her time is up.

I just wanted to say finally that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has my full confidence. I can honestly say that his loyalty to this country and his dedication and commitment are second to none.

Your time is up too.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, may well be the person in the dock today, but what is on trial is a culture of privilege underwritten by the widespread practice of political cronyism within Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The roll of shame that has preceded this scandal is too long to recite. I could go back for many decades. The history of this State is steeped in scandal surrounding both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the latest scandal being that surrounding Katherine Zappone this summer and the reverse-engineering of a job for her.

Since then we have witnessed a deliberate attempt to cover up the affair by the guilty parties once discovered. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, deliberately misled an Oireachtas committee. He has given contradictory and misleading accounts of his actions and role in the events surrounding this affair. He breached the law by deleting communications critical to our understanding of events and to allow for any transparency in the attempts to decipher his actions.

He has used his position as a senior Minister, alongside his party colleagues, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, to make up and offer a job to a former colleague on the mooch for a cushy number that would provide access to the corridors of power within the UN. The Taoiseach, the individual with the ultimate responsibility for the conduct of all his Cabinet not just the Fianna Fáil Ministers, has failed in his duty to the people. He has failed to stamp out the toxic culture at the heart of the Government, a culture that has unfortunately existed in both main Government parties since the foundation of the State.

We are witnessing an attempt by the Fianna Fáil leader to deflect attention, telling us, "Move on; there is nothing whatsoever to see here". He will do anything to avoid scrutiny of the facts or his having to hold anybody to account. There is also a collective failure of the Fianna Fáil Party and the Green Party in this. There must be consistent exposure of wrongdoing and it must be done in a manner that cannot be ignored.

It is critical that the truth must come out. The jury, who are the public, have given their verdict and they know damn well what is the truth. They know what is happening here because they have seen it time and time again. They know the Taoiseach is guilty of presiding over a culture of cronyism and rotten politics at the heart of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. He is clearly unable to see the rot at the centre of his Government and the type of politics he represents which makes it evident how out of touch he is and how out of touch is the Government. That is because both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been in power for too long.

I do not have any confidence in the Minister. I have no confidence in the Government whatsoever. It is time for new politics. It is time for a change from this rotten type of politics. We need politics that puts ordinary citizens at its core, not cronies, insiders or the well connected.

Tonight, the Social Democrats will vote no confidence in the Minister, Deputy Coveney. At the outset, I would like to depersonalise the debate as much as possible. As we vote this evening, I would like our vote to be a rejection of the culture that enabled this controversy. It is culture of arrogance at the highest levels of our State, one that facilitates those who have governed for too long to believe that both they and the decisions they take on our behalf are above scrutiny and, where necessary, consequence.

We reject the existing culture of cronyism where a Minister can believe that only the person they favour and whose credentials and experience they place value on can be appointed as a UN envoy. Beyond that, we reject the outcome that because the public outcry was so vehemently against the appointment of a Fine Gael insider to such an important role without process, Ireland is now without an envoy to the UN to advance LGBTQI+ rights despite this being so clearly a valuable position and one on which I believe the Irish public would like us to demonstrate leadership.

We reject the passing of blame, telling a reporter on our national airwaves what they can or cannot make a story of, a culture of deleting records and telling the Irish people that lessons have been learned as a means of avoiding the responsibility for the actions that were taken.

Tonight, what exactly is the Government asking us to vote confidence in? I have listened to some of the most senior Ministers in the State speak and not one of them has attempted to debunk the fact that a political stroke was attempted. If so, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has had multiple occasions on which to set the record straight on the botched appointment of Katherine Zappone. Each time his explanation has stretched the truth to the point of annihilating it.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has asked us to believe that not only did Dr. Zappone misapprehend the job offer that had been made on 4 March, but she also misconstrued a start date. Dr. Zappone's text message to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is clear: "You had mentioned June as a start date." The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has told us that this explicit statement from Dr. Zappone is a misunderstanding and her earlier exuberance about the "incredible opportunity" she had been offered was pre-emptive.

I believe that Katherine Zappone has done some service to the State. I have visited An Cosán on numerous occasions. However, I believe Fine Gael is attempting to throw her under a bus here and to make us believe that not only did she invent a job offer, but that she invented a start date for this non-existent job. The Minister has asked us to come to this conclusion despite professing himself to be so impressed with her professional ability that he felt she was the only candidate who should be in the running for the role of UN special envoy.

More important to me than seeing a former Minister and friend of Fine Gael whom it is willing to sacrifice for the purpose of its own survival is the concept of what constitutes political lobbying and political patronage in this country. Every person involved in this saga understands that power and access to it are their own form of currency. Tonight, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party Members want us to believe that a highly connected person who was found to be contacting and influencing senior Ministers and diplomatic staff in the awarding of a prestigious job does not amount to lobbying. Beyond that, the Tánaiste tried to diminish the story in early August by saying that a salary of €15,000 was not significant. Tonight, the Taoiseach described the role as being part time.

There was, I believe, a time for contrition in this sorry saga when hands could have been raised with people saying, "We got it wrong and we'll go back to basics." That was a long time ago and in the intervening period, all we have had is waffle and obfuscation. Tonight, we in the Social Democrats will vote against this version of an Ireland Fine Gael wishes to maintain. Tonight, we will vote no confidence in the Minister, Deputy Coveney. I hope it is clear that our absence of confidence extends to every facet of the Fine Gael brand and all that it represents for our country.

I call Deputy Richmond, who is sharing time with Deputy Bruton and the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan.

I support the motion of absolute and full confidence in the Minister, Deputy Coveney, continuing as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence at this crucial time for our State and the European Union. Like a number of others in this House, I have been fortunate over the past four years to work extremely closely with the Minister as this State faced one of the gravest challenges of a generation, the threat of Brexit, the threat of a return of a hard border and the devastation of so many vital industries. Throughout that period, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, stood up, stood particularly tall and defended the interests of Ireland and its people North and South.

That is not just my opinion as an observer or someone who is in the room but the opinion that has been stressed countless times by the same people who read absolute nonsense from prepared scripts tonight. They are the same people who thanked Simon Coveney for standing by the tenets of the Good Friday Agreement and thanked him for protecting the rights of Irish citizens in the North. They are the people who thanked Simon Coveney for his patience in the face of absolute adversity from politicians in the North of this country and across the water. They thanked him and lauded him in this Chamber, the Seanad, committee rooms and closed conversations across the island and Continent. They now stand up, as political opportunists, to take a swipe and bring a good man down. Deputy Gary Gannon admirably tried to depersonalise the argument but a motion of confidence in an individual Minister is personal. Now we face those challenges again with politics in Northern Ireland in flux and the British Government reneging on commitments in the protocol. Today, the British Government has appointed its fourth Foreign Secretary in the time that Simon Coveney has been Minister for Foreign Affairs. This is the time that this Government and country need Simon Coveney. This is not the time for the duplicity, contradictions and sneering from those opposite. If they had their way, they would have pulled down the institutions and this State many times over.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to support Simon Coveney. Simon made a mistake, for which he has been fully accountable. His integrity is absolutely beyond question. His record of outstanding service is open to anyone to inspect. Katherine Zappone is not a crony when it comes to defending LGBT rights and history will show that. These facts are not lost on Sinn Féin. That is why it has shifted its attack tonight. It seeks to destroy Simon Coveney's career to create a political platform to attack every party that is part of this Government. That is using the solemn process of removing someone from office in a way that undermines the value of a process that should be about proportionate accountability. Those of us who believe in proportionate accountability see it is being destroyed and hurt by this approach that Sinn Féin is taking. We are devaluing something that is core to a process. It is part of Sinn Féin's binary politics. It may be successful to make it black and white and say that people are either on their side or against them. It is no accident that Sinn Féin is using this against a politician who is tireless in his attempts to find common ground and understanding with others with whom he has differences. That has been discarded by Sinn Féin. Their politics is about building a wall and taking back control. They seek to present a simplistic caricature of Simon Coveney and others in government. It is not worthy of a party like Sinn Féin to adopt but that seems to be its way.

I believe it will galvanise this Government because we know that we need politics that examines evidence and develops solutions that are sustainable for the public. That is what Simon Coveney has done throughout his career, whether in the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or Foreign Affairs or dealing with the issues of Northern Ireland and Brexit. He has demonstrated his ability to stay the course and to find ways that we could bring people together to resolve differences that hold us apart. That is the sort of approach we need if we want to create a shared Ireland, not the divisive, binary politics that we see all too often from Sinn Féin. I vote full confidence in Simon Coveney. He is part of the answer to this country's problems and his record of service shows that is the case. I believe that he will be pivotal in the future as we seek to deal with many really tricky problems, both in relationships on these islands and in the wider political arena, in which he has immense understanding and sympathy for the ordinary person.

Deputy McDonald and her party throwing crass accusations across this Chamber represents the height of hypocrisy. We all know that people make mistakes. To err is human. That Sinn Féin would seek to bring down this Government on an issue about which there has been a full acknowledgement and apology is cynical in the extreme. The governance of our country at this crucial time is too important for such childish game-playing, since that is what this is, and attempts at distraction. The Opposition wants to talk about integrity and probity so let us do that. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has represented this country with distinction on the international stage. He has stood firm in the interests of everyone on this island, North and South, at an extremely challenging time when others either refused to take a stance or sought to use the chaos to further their own agenda. He is a man of the highest integrity, who people have looked to for reassurance and security. While the Minister was speaking about the dangers of Brexit in the face of an onslaught from elements of the British press and spending long days in Brussels working on a deal to mitigate its worst impacts, what was Sinn Féin doing? Sinn Féin refused to take a stance on the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK, preferring to sit out the campaign and leave it to others.

(Interruptions).

Sinn Féin refused to take seats in Westminster at any point during negotiations on a deal, when its votes might have been crucial to avoiding a hard Brexit. Even now, Sinn Féin seeks to weaken this country's voice internationally at a time issues with the protocol and the future of the Northern Ireland Assembly are in the balance. That does not even start on the economic wreckage that its policies would produce in the country if it ever had to implement them. Sinn Féin is like the man on the sidelines, loudly pointing out every flaw and error to all who will listen, but when the time comes to tog out on the field, it is nowhere to be found. We know the meaning of integrity and probity on this side of the House. Sinn Féin is known for turning its back when the going gets tough and hoping that no one will notice. We have noticed and we continue to tackle Covid-19 as we deal with international challenges and articulate Ireland's voice in global affairs. I am proud to support a true statesman like Simon Coveney. I have full confidence that he has the interests of this country at heart.

It is quite striking that amid all the praise of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, as a great statesman and everything else, there has been an absence of a repetition by the Government of the detailed narrative that he put forward to cover up clear cronyism. I think that is because to simply lay out fact after supposed fact would reveal how ridiculous this is. I will go through a few issues with what the Minister claims. He claims there was no lobbying for this position. He slightly revised his position at the second committee meeting, when he said that there was no formal lobbying for this position. Obviously for anyone who can read and can see Katherine Zappone's messages, there is no question that that was lobbying. Second, he claimed that no job was offered until July, despite a text message from Katherine Zappone stating, "Thank you so, so much for offering me this incredible opportunity." That was before the job specification was even written and she obviously had a hand in writing that later. The Minister then claimed that he deleted the message about this because his phone was running out of space. I think the Minister has an iPhone, if not a high-end Android. They can contain approximately 350 million messages. I am sure he is a popular man and receives many text messages but that was incredible.

That story was changed in 12 hours. The story was then that the Minister deleted the messages because his phone was subject to a security breach, hacking, etc. The only problem with that, which came up at the second committee appearance, is that to square the circle of not breaching the Freedom of Information Act with the Minister simultaneously saying that he deletes text messages because of his phone being hacked, he said that he does not breach the Freedom of Information Act, that he does not delete any message to do with Government business, and he deletes the other messages. He is telling us that he deletes the unimportant messages, not the ones related to Government business, and leaves the messages about Government business on the phone for Government hackers to be able to access. It is nonsense. Every aspect of the story is complete nonsense. It is clearly in contrast to what the Taoiseach said earlier.

It is clearly a breach of the Freedom of Information Act to delete text messages between a Minister and the Tánaiste relating to the appointment of someone to a Government position. Why does any of this matter? This cronyism, which is being covered up, is not an accident or a bug. It is a feature of how capitalism, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael operate.

Look at those protesting about the housing crisis outside this House. It was the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who produced the Rebuilding Ireland plan - it has been deleted from the Internet but still exists in hard copy - which was about inviting in vulture funds, real estate investment funds, REITs, and corporate landlords. It was the Minister who wrote the legislation in conjunction with, and at the behest of, the developers of strategic housing developments, with disasters across the city and country as a consequence. It was the Minister who said that by July 2017 we would see an end to homeless people in hotels and emergency accommodation. That situation still exists today. These are the consequences of the policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. They have a wafer-thin majority now. The Government should go and allow people to kick it out.

The Zappone affair cannot be explained simply by the sense of entitlement felt by merchant princes. Fine Gael has been in power for more than ten years now. Its Ministers believe that power is theirs by right. The Varadkar leaks affair showed that last year; the Zappone affair shows it this year. As well as being the Minister most caught up in the lobbying, cronyism and deception of the Zappone affair, Deputy Coveney is just one of the Ministers whose fingerprints are all over this housing crisis, who have drastically underfunded mental health, and who continue to deny our nurses a Covid bonus for their sacrifices during the pandemic. I could go on. I have no confidence in the Minister, no confidence in the Government and no confidence in the system they defend.

Fianna Fáil Deputies will use their votes tonight to keep the Minister in office and no doubt he will then believe he is out of the gap. However, the Minister will be somewhat tarnished and the Government will be somewhat damaged. As Covid recedes and class issues re-emerge, I strongly suspect the Minister and the Government will increasingly find themselves on the back foot from this point on right up until the general election.

I apologise to Deputy Mairéad Farrell, who I should have called already.

Tá sé sin ceart go leor, a Cheann Comhairle, agus gabhaim buíochas leis. Since this Government began its life, we have seen the complete erosion of public confidence in political life. It is undeniable at this point that we have a crisis in how this Government does business. Public standards and ethics are on the floor. We previously had a clear attempt to breach the lobbying Act, which tries to close the revolving door between government and vested interests. The events of today have been dictated by Zapponegate, another occasion when public standards and ethics were thrown into the bin. We then had the Minister, Deputy Coveney, appear before a committee where he provided an account that contained serious inconsistencies and excuses designed to try to explain away the problem. We also heard the Minister stating, by his own admission, that he had deleted official correspondence related to this matter.

I am no legal expert, but section 52 of the Freedom of Information Act is written with the kind of admirable clarity that does not require a legal background to understand. It states that "a person ... without lawful excuse and with intention to deceive destroys or materially alters a record shall be guilty of an offence and be liable on summary conviction to a class B fine". I guess we will just have to let the public decide for themselves because the Government's vote of confidence would seem to suggest it does not believe there is any issue.

We then heard that this Government does not even seem to believe that Katherine Zappone's actions constitute lobbying at all. To hear Ministers say they are not being lobbied when they receive numerous texts and communications from a former Cabinet colleague about a role that was created for her, the mind absolutely boggles. It would appear that some Ministers simply believe they are doubling as HR specialists in their spare time. I heard one Fine Gael Minister play the definitional game by trying to define the problem away, and that is the height of cynicism. Yes, we could restrict the definition of lobbying to someone who conducts their canvassing activities in a hotel lobby, but where would that get us? Call me old-fashioned, but I have always subscribed to the belief that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. The same goes for lobbying.

I have heard some people tonight say that members of the Opposition are just standing on the sidelines, but we are being extremely constructive and the lobbying Act clearly needs to be strengthened. I have a Bill to do that and what did members of the Government do? They kicked the can down the road. The FOI Act clearly needs strengthening, and what have I received just a few moments ago but another delaying tactic - a review. We do not need another review; we need action.

Tá daoine bréan den chineál bhealach is atá ag an Rialtas seo chun a chuid oibre a dhéanamh agus tuigim go maith an fáth a bhfuil siad bréan de. Tá sé dochreidte agus iomlán do-ghlactha agus caithfear stop a chur leis.

The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is sharing time with Deputies Cowen and Cathal Crowe.

In making the case for confidence in this Government and in the Minister, I acknowledge the recovery that has yet to be led and the healing that this Government must and will help with. In making the case for confidence in the efforts of Simon Coveney and the Government, I acknowledge the work that lies ahead, work this Government is committed to undertaking.

Let me deal with the charges that have been made against this Government and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, this evening. Let us look at the track record of this Government and what it has achieved across recent months, while always acknowledging how much more we need to do. Some 7 million vaccinations have been administered, 500,000 people have come off the pandemic unemployment payment and the building of 3,300 homes was commenced throughout July. There is much more to do. There are also tests in politics and tests in the progress the Irish people want us to meet. These are the tests this Government is striving to meet, a contributor to which is the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in his work.

I have heard the allegations of cronyism and of some alleged elite. There are 145 reasons that charge does not stand up tonight, which are the 145 appointments made by the Government with the assistance of the semi-State body, the Public Appointments Service, that advises the Government on appointments that are made to leading positions in semi-State bodies. It is the kind of organisation that was put in place to respond to the concerns that Deputy Howlin has and is implemented and overseen by this Government. That is proper government. It is the way that the Government has made those decisions.

That leads on to the next point on the charges made against the Minister, Deputy Coveney. We have acknowledged what went wrong in that process, as he has. As other Deputies have said, when the long hours needed to be put in to defend our country on Brexit and to put together the proposition that led to the backstop, when a political crisis - how we could respond to Brexit - emerged, nobody did more and nobody worked harder with more integrity, patriotism and competence than Simon Coveney. If you are going to make the charge about a single point, and I hope all who are making this charge have records of perfection, unblemished records they can stand over, let us look at the man, his track record and his character. That is why we on the Government benches make the case on his behalf and on behalf of our efforts.

We do so in the face of a party whose members say they want better local services but they want to abolish the local property tax. They are in favour of doing more about the climate crisis but they want to abolish carbon taxes.

That is climate justice.

They are all in favour but the mask always slips with Sinn Féin

That is absolutely untrue. That is dishonest.

Sinn Féin is in favour of more houses being built when its members are in the House, but are against them being built in any local community when they walk out of here.

(Interruptions).

Look at the charges that have been made here this evening. They have all been in favour of the big lie that motivates Sinn Féin, which is that it is the only party that represents the ordinary worker and the care worker. This is a Government in which my party represents the care worker, the person looking for a home to buy, the person whose rent is too high-----

Get out of here. Come on. Nobody believes that.

This is stand-up comedy.

We will do that work-----

(Interruptions).

As I said, the mask will always slip with Sinn Féin. We will do that work. We will do that hard work in honesty and by putting forward policies that can make a difference to the lives of people.

There are few in this House who represent those qualities more than Simon Coveney.

I call Deputy Cowen, who is sharing time with Deputy Cathal Crowe.

The appointment by the Cabinet and the subsequent withdrawal of Katherine Zappone as an envoy has been an unseemly controversy. The fact that the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Cabinet approved the appointment, some of whom, yes, were blindsided but, apparently, oblivious to the political implications, is, to say the very least of it, strange.

The envoy appointment fiasco represented a failure of leadership and collective responsibility at the heart of the coalition. What has made the whole business such a sorry tale is that there was absolutely no public appetite, no demand, for any such envoy to be appointed. It was easy then for the public to conclude or to perceive that this was a set of insiders looking after one of their own.

I told the Taoiseach directly at our party meeting recently that, notwithstanding his present authority, it would be presumptuous for anyone to believe or presume they have majority support. The same should be said for the entire coalition. The people expect, wish and deserve to see good governance, not sideshows or ineptitude. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has apologised and so too has the Tánaiste. Let us be fair, there is not unanimous absolute or wholesome confidence in the Minister, especially, unfortunately, in the way he handled this issue within Fianna Fáil, but I expect that the whole sorry episode may well represent the last chance moment for all concerned.

The parliamentary democratic system provides potential for Government stability up to five years. It affords time, space and opportunity to implement its programme for Government. I represented Fianna Fáil, among others, in negotiating, agreeing and selling that programme. It has much potential specifically, for example, to address the greatest need in our time at present, which, of course, is housing. We remain committed to this Government delivering from that programme of Government to our constituents. Not to vote with the Government today would seriously curtail our ability to best serve our constituents.

My membership of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party and my commitment to modernise its aims and goals from within are an example that will not be compromised or undermined by the obvious yet understandable political gamesmanship we see here this evening from Sinn Féin. For that reason I will be voting support for the said Minister and for this Government to hurry up and implement those very agreements we sought and got among ourselves when putting forward a programme for Government that has the ability to deliver according to the people's wishes at the last election.

We should not be here tonight. Merriongate from the very get-go was a problem of Fine Gael's making and it should have been for it to deal with, for it to determine the thresholds of ethics and for it to determine what level of sanction should apply. It is wrong that coalition partners, including my own party, are left to deal with this mess tonight, a full eight weeks after it first broke.

The Deputy does not have to vote confidence in him.

I did not interrupt the Deputy.

The Deputy should not be distracted.

This Government has worked very well so far and it will work well tomorrow and in the days that follow but, let us be clear, there are three very separate parties in this coalition Government. There are very clear lines of demarcation between us. The Tánaiste, in my opinion, should have dealt with this quickly without a perpetuation of the matter for the length of time it has run its course. Sinn Féin has turned this into raw political opportunism.

Thank you, Deputy. The time is up.

It has played gamesmanship with this. Its Abú system is working in overdrive because people far beyond the boundaries of Clare, from south Armagh and Derry, are piling on our pages in recent days. I will conclude. It is working in overdrive. It loves these opportunities.

The Deputy should at least take himself seriously.

They do not want to deal with the real crisis in Ireland.

The Deputy's time is up.

I will conclude by saying the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is a good man. Several times over the past fortnight he has taken calls and texts from me relating to an Irish family stuck in Kabul. That is a real crisis. He has given of his time to listen to that case. Many in my party tonight will reluctantly vote confidence in the Minister, Deputy Coveney, but, let me be clear, this is not about the man. We have confidence in him to fulfil his role as a Minister. We have full confidence in him. It is the process that got us to this point, which has us very annoyed. We have confidence in him. It is the process that has been wrong.

Thank you Deputy. The time is up.

(Interruptions).

Can Members stop the heckling? Sinn Féin has the next timeslot. I call Deputy Pearse Doherty.

There has been a great effort here this evening on behalf of the Government to divert attention from the core issue. We heard some of that tune played just a moment ago. Let me remind Members that the last time there was a similar controversy surrounding a Fine Gael Minister of using his influence to do favours for his friend, it was the Tánaiste. When he leaked a confidential document to a friend, we were told to move on, there is nothing to see here, this is gameplaying, political stunts and so on. it is now nine months later and his actions are still under criminal investigation by the Garda. I would ask Members to forgive Sinn Féin and many others in the Opposition if we are sceptical of the same excuses being peddled by the Government parties today.

Let us call a spade a spade. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has been caught red-handed offering a salaried job, paid by the taxpayer, to a friend. He has been caught using the time and resources of his Department to reverse-engineer that role. He has been caught covering his tracks and destroying records and communications pertaining to official Government business, thereby making a mockery out of the freedom of information legislation. He has been caught misleading the committee to which he is answerable and then concocting a story that stretched all credulity, expecting the committee and the public to swallow it.

The Taoiseach believes we should turn a blind eye. He tells us that this behaviour is not worthy of sanction or of censure - that, in effect, it is an example to all members of the Government to follow, that there will be no repercussions, and that while there may be three parties there should only be one Taoiseach who should take action, but he has failed to do so. That is why Sinn Féin has moved this motion today. We have a very different view, namely, that a Government Minister using his influence, office and power to create a paid job at the UN for a friend is not acceptable, that a Government Minister misleading a committee of the Oireachtas is not acceptable, that a Government Minister destroying records of Government communications is not acceptable, and that creating backchannels to communicate favours for friends is not acceptable. This Government needs to understand that. This cuts to the core of how the Government works and who it works for.

The culture of the insider has become the hallmark of Fine Gael in government for far too long and it is a corrosive force, but it comes at a cost to the outsiders - those who, unlike the developers, the bankers or former Government Ministers, do not have members of this Government on speed dial. That culture needs to be stamped out. While Fine Gael remains in power, that is unlikely to happen. It is even more unlikely when a Taoiseach allows the culture to fester without any action or sanction. That is crazy stuff. Without sanction, what is the message that is being sent out? It is that this is how Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Green Party are permitted to do their business. That is something Sinn Féin does not accept. It is something this Dáil should not accept. That is why this Dáil should stand up and set out a clear message tonight that the culture of cronyism and the culture of doing favours for those on the inside is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. That is why Members of this House should vote no confidence in Simon Coveney tonight. What he has done was pure cronyism. He has been caught out. He has only ever apologised for not telling the Taoiseach in advance, and not for the creation of a job for his friend that was paid by the public purse, for the fact that he destroyed the records, or for the fact that he reverse-engineered the job. None of that he has apologised for yet.

I will move on to the Regional Group. Deputy Berry is sharing time with Deputies Lowry, Shanahan and Tóibín.

I have absolutely no hesitation in voting confidence in the Minister, Deputy Coveney, tonight. I do it for one reason and one reason only. Earlier this year he committed to implementing the findings of the Commission on Defence Forces, which is scheduled for submission in a few weeks' time. I very much look forward to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, still being in office so that I can hold him personally to account in that regard.

The people I represent do not want a new defence Minister who would come in here with brand new bright ideas and kick the can down the road for another four or five years. They need action and they need it now because our armed forces are in crisis. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has proven he can act decisively when required. He deployed Irish troops to Afghanistan only a few weeks ago to save dozens of Irish lives in a meticulously planned and superbly executed operation, despite the resource constraints which everyone knows everything about. That is precisely the mettle and resolve we need to see from the Minister or from any Minister when tackling the structural issues in our military from December and beyond.

I empathise with the Minister that he is holding down two ministerial portfolios, which were held by two separate individuals up to a few years ago. It would be remiss of me were I not to point out that the Minister is spending much more time on foreign affairs than he is on defence and his troops are suffering disproportionately as a result.

However, it would be remiss of me not to point out that the Minister is spending a lot more time on foreign affairs than he is on defence and that his troops are suffering disproportionately as a result. His troops do not need to see him in New York. They need to see him in Newbridge, tackling the daily difficulties in our armed forces as soon as possible. I would be grateful if the Minister could take those constructive points on board.

In summary, the Minister has my absolute confidence but we need to improve expectations from a defence perspective. He has delivered in the foreign affairs arena - of that there is no doubt - but he has yet to deliver for defence and we need to see improvements in that regard.

The appointment of Katherine Zappone was mismanaged from the start. It has damaged the perception of Government competence and left the door open for legitimate criticism. However, Sinn Féin has magnified and exaggerated the issue. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has explained through the required channels the details of events that occurred. He has admitted that things could, and should, have been done differently. The Minister has apologised for his mistakes. His error of judgment in this instance is not in keeping with his long-standing political character. Deputy Coveney has been always cautious, careful and prudent in his actions and commentary on political issues. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is known for his integrity and commitment, which has been flawless over the years. I know him to be sincere and genuine. The people of this country have been through an extremely difficult and challenging time. Covid has taken up a large amount of Dáil time since March 2020. People now want to move forward. They wish to hear what the future holds in terms of our dysfunctional health service, our economy, housing for their families and the host of other matters that have genuine importance in their lives. I run a busy political office. Contact with the general public keeps me in tune with public opinion. This matter has never registered as a serious issue in the public mind. The feedback I get from the public is of puzzlement as to how or why this has dominated political discourse. It is time to move on and to address the real and substantive issues facing our country. I am happy to declare confidence in the Minister, Deputy Coveney.

On the day this vote was announced, the Irish Examiner led with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform's insistence that the Cork-Limerick motorway would be in the revised national development plan. I thought this an unsubtle wink to the people of Cork that this Government and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, had the motorway baby safely in their arms. Unfortunately, I have no babe in arms to signal to the south east. No baby steps have been taken to advance or upgrade our regional N24 and N25 transport links. However, I acknowledge the Minister's competence and, in particular, his work on Brexit. This competence and strength on Cork issues is seen by many in my constituency as a problem that has helped to keep Waterford's ambitions stunted. I refer to our airport, hospital and university. However, we are fair-minded and seek natural justice. Where mistakes were made here, they were not of such an order or gravity as to fire a competent and effective Minister and, possibly, a Government as this pandemic and Brexit rumble on. Budget 2022 and the revised national development plan are also issues of natural justice that will be closely followed in the south east. That is the correct matter on which to base any decisions on the future of this Government.

There was no public recruitment process and no advertisement. There was no transparency. It was not open to anybody else. There was no competition. There were no qualification criteria. There was no fairness whatsoever. This role was gifted to Katherine Zappone because she was a friend and because she had the mobile number of half a dozen Ministers. Cronyism is deeply corrosive in the running of a country. It creates a two-tier society and blocks the majority of citizens from applying for jobs at the upper reaches of our Government. An absence of competition also ensures that we will not have the best people for the jobs we need filled in this country. Freedom of information, FOI, legislation is in place simply to allow citizens and journalists to make government transparent. On this occasion, Government communications were deleted and FOI material was shredded. Ministers are designated individuals under lobbying law. Lobbying law pertains to the influencing of a Minister in the spending of Government money. This is very clear. The Taoiseach himself was on "Morning Ireland" and admitted that Katherine Zappone sought this job. There was a blizzard of texts. Lobbying law was clearly broken. This could be a watershed moment for this country. We could reform the political system in this country but to do so there must be consequences for wrongdoing. If there are no consequences, there will be no change. A couple of months ago, the Tánaiste leaked a confidential document. Today he is investigating a leak from his own Cabinet, allegedly from a Minister who is not even here. Every single junior party gets to a point in a coalition government at which they either hold the senior party to account or hitch their wagons to that senior party. If they do hitch their wagons to that senior party, they will be toast in the next election.

Ba mhaith liom an lánmhuinín atá agam i mo chomhghleacaí, an tAire, an Teachta Coveney, a chur in iúl. People in public life make mistakes and will continue to do so long after we are all gone. Public representatives should be held accountable for these mistakes. Deputy Coveney has accounted for these mistakes at committee not once, but twice. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we have Sinn Féin standing right at the top of the high moral mountain and calling for Deputy Coveney's head on the grounds of a mistake he made, even though he is a dedicated politician with an incredible track record who gave a great deal on Brexit, the UN Security Council campaign and the restoration of the Assembly in the North. Sinn Féin is saying off with his head for making a mistake which he has accounted for twice. It is saying we should end his career. What message is that for our young people and people who might consider going into public office?

Meanwhile, back on the crowded Sinn Féin high moral mountain, in the words of Deputy Carthy, the Sinn Féin Party has made political appointments to boards, including Foras na Gaeilge, based on “a process and on a set of defined considerations” and furthermore that "Any person that we have nominated to any board at all, has always been on the basis of them being, in our view, the most suitably qualified candidate.” The result of this defined process has led to the following. Out of 16 board members of Foras na Gaeilge - eight from the South, nominated by the Irish Government, and eight from the North, nominated by the Northern Ireland Executive - at least six have links with Sinn Féin. One such member is Liadh Ní Riada, a former presidential candidate for Sinn Féin. Did Deputy McDonald propose Liadh Ní Riada for this position? Sinn Féin councillor, Conor McGuinness, who is the leas-chathaoirleach of the board of Foras na Gaeilge, is from Waterford and works closely with Deputy Cullinane. What was Deputy Cullinane's role, if any, in this appointment? We also have Kevin Ó hEadhra, a Sinn Féin activist and candidate who stood in the 2019 local elections in Connemara, and Niall Ó Gallochobhair from Lifford. I know Mr. Ó Gallochobhair well and he is a good guy. He is a political adviser and constituency manager with Deputy Doherty. Did Deputy Doherty have a role in this appointment? Other board members include Maighréad Ní Chonghaile from Belfast, who is principal of a Gaelscoil and a member of Sinn Féin, and Caoimhín Mac Giolla Mhín, who is from Belfast and who was a Sinn Féin councillor for six years. Tá blas na fimíneachta i gceist. This is hypocrisy at its best.

This was not Simon's finest hour and nobody knows that better than Simon himself. However, there are wider issues as we hold this so-called debate tonight. This is the level of political discourse, to which Deputy Richmond alluded, despite all the relevant and critical issues facing us which must be dealt with, including all of the issues that emerged during August when this charade was ongoing. Covid is still an issue. Our young people in primary and secondary school are still facing disruption. They are still having their education in schools disrupted because of Covid. We also have issues across six or seven counties where people are living with the nightmare of their houses falling down due to mica and pyrite. We face many critical issues of importance. Yes, Ministers need to be held to account but is this really where we are at?

Last month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change launched its landmark report setting out in clear terms the urgent need for radical climate action. It did so against the backdrop of the consequences of a climate-altered world being played out in real time, with heat records shattered in Italy, Canada and Northern Ireland, with Hurricane Ida crashing into the Louisiana coast and subsequently flooding the New York subway system, with devastating floods sweeping through northern Europe and with wildfires raging from California to Greece to Siberia. That report is not equivocal in its findings.

The window for action on climate change is closing and the consequences of inaction are catastrophic. In the words of the UN Secretary General, the report is a code red for humanity. If this seems tangential to tonight's debate, it is not. The Government has significant work to get done, not least of which is action on climate change but also in the areas of health, housing and myriad other challenges posed by the social and economic fallout from the pandemic. We have a programme for Government, which is the most ambitious in the history of the State. We have followed through with important legislative work, from the LDA Act to the climate Act. Now we must concentrate on delivery and on translating legislation into action. This is all being done in the context of doing our utmost to protect lives and livelihoods as we steer our course through a global pandemic. This is the work we have in front of us as a Government. I believe this work is important and for that reason I will vote confidence in this Government.

The issues surrounding the proposed appointment of Ms Zappone have been well ventilated at this point. The process leading to the appointment was unsatisfactory and should have been handled in a more transparent manner. The Minister has acknowledged he made a number of mistakes, has apologised and has twice appeared before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. All this is well known. However, it is my opinion that a vote of no confidence would be in no way proportionate.

With respect to the Minister's brief, this vote comes at a critical juncture. From the ongoing effect of Brexit to our seat on the UN Security Council to the unfolding situation in Afghanistan, he has demonstrated his experience and expertise on all these issues. I have full confidence in his ability to continue in these ministerial duties. We have been promised change and a new politics from the Opposition benches. In tonight's debate, I only see populist Punch and Judy politics, aimed at sowing discord among coalition partners. The issues facing us as a Government and a country are too serious and urgent. They deserve better from all here.

It would be easy to give a litany of what Sinn Féin Members actually do, what their real intentions and practices are compared to the petty stunts they pull when sitting in this House. I do not want to do that tonight. I want to talk about a colleague-----

Believe me, there will be plenty of time to talk about what they do. Tonight I want to talk about a colleague I work with in the Department of Foreign Affairs, a person who has more integrity than most of them will ever know or understand and who does more to serve this country in a day or a week than most of them have ever done. Indeed, most of them have a good track record in damaging our country.

It is a critical time and some of them might wish in a few weeks or months if, God forbid, the motion was to succeed, that they had him there with his skills, integrity and judgment. He brings all those things to his role as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and has exemplified that in his delivery on Brexit and his work on the UN Security Council. He has exemplified all the things we like and admire in people in public life in this country in his decades of public service. To see people who do not really understand what public service is wanting to pull him down is a disgrace.

Address the issue.

We move to the Rural Independent Group. Five Members, namely, Deputies Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins, Michael Healy-Rae, Richard O'Donoghue and Danny Healy-Rae are sharing.

The members of the public looking in are aghast. They saw what went on through Covid. They see almost €4 billion extra spent on the HSE for 44 extra acute beds and they see the harm done to people through lack of services, lack of diagnoses and diagnoses delayed. There are issues with cancer patients, mental health and so on. Yet we have this folly of a vote of no confidence. Yes, the lobbying legislation was flagrantly violated and cronyism is alive and well. It should be changed in the lobbying legislation and formers Ministers should not be allowed to lobby.

The job created concerned freedom of expression for the LGBTQI community and the lady now cannot express a syllable. She is missing. Will she come before the committee and answer why and who she lobbied? Texts have gone missing. This looks like a charade and it is a charade. I have respect for the Minister, Deputy Coveney, but this is not good enough. The Fianna Fáil leader should be ashamed of himself to allow it.

No one here can take the moral high ground in Irish politics, including me. In my time in the Dáil I have fought against Minister after Minister for fairness in politics, which is greatly lacking. Ministers are so often involved in nod-and-wink style politics and looking after their own back yard and not the country, like they should. I have always supported the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in so many ways as he is a leader with top qualities but that has been completely overshadowed in this case as I read the texts Zappone was sending and her expectation that a few texts the right way would get a job that she wanted for her agenda. Whether this was an Irish agenda is to be seriously questioned. The missing texts worry me. How deep was the Tánaiste's involvement? How deep was the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe's, involvement?

Ms Zappone's involvement in Irish politics leaves so many questions, from the first day the Labour Party nodded and winked to Fine Gael to appoint her as a Senator. Then Enda Kenny, nodding and winking, appointed her to a senior Ministry. Now this carry-on stinks to the high heavens and asks many questions we have little or no answers to, with the strong probability that more leaks are yet to come out. It leaves me with a clear choice in this matter.

I have no confidence in this Government. It has made a mess of the hospital service. University Hospital Kerry may as well close its doors tonight because of mismanagement at government level. Poor decision after poor decision has been made by a Government completely out of touch. Katherine Zappone was not going to represent me or the people of Kerry whom I represent. That is why what the Government did was so wrong. She was on a solo run to promote her agenda, which was not mine. She would not have much support in County Kerry anyway.

Having said that, do I agree with the motion before us? Would I vote against the Minister personally? I would not. He is a good, solid political worker. Saying different is not factual. I have known him a long time, going back to our time on the Southern Health Board. I saw a worker then, I see one now and I cannot go against that. I have nothing to gain by voting in the Minister's favour, other than that my political judgment says it is the right thing to do.

The Government might learn from the management team of All-Ireland champions, Limerick. Three parties going in three different directions and getting nothing right. We have seen Deputy Varadkar leak stuff and Phil Hogan put out of his role. I did not like the man but he was doing a job in Europe. We saw agriculture Ministers being thrown around in this House. We are here to do business and to work for the people. My job here is to get business done. Do I have confidence in the Minister? I do. Did he do wrong? He did. Does he need to be sanctioned for it? He does. Is it the right choice to remove him from where he is? Which Government Deputy will replace him? There is not one that has the experience we need at the present.

I believe we are elected here to do a different type of work altogether. We were elected to represent people that need caring or that need to go into hospital. Our hospital service is in a ramshackle condition in Kerry and west Cork.

The cost of living is going up and no one is saying anything about it. The cost of fuel, petrol and diesel is doing likewise. How will old people pay for fuel to heat their homes this winter? Will Government Members increase the fuel allowance? No, they will not. They will not even talk about it. It is a shame to waste time on yet another debate on a confidence motion.

We have to go to the Independent group. We will hear Deputy Joan Collins. She is sharing with Deputies Harkin and McNamara.

I will oppose the Government motion of confidence in the Minister, Deputy Coveney, for the simple reason that I have no confidence not just in the Minister, but in the Government. I do not have confidence in the Government dealing with issues such as the housing crisis.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission report yesterday was not a surprise but it was a shocking read.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, stood over housing policies up to 2017 that have failed the people of Ireland. I have no confidence in the Government's delivery of health services. There is an ongoing crisis in health provision, with 1 million people out of a population of 5 million on waiting lists, many of them for more than 18 months. I have no confidence whatsoever in the Government's credibility in delivering Sláintecare and I have serious concerns about what is happening in that regard.

Having said that, there are questions to be answered by the Tánaiste, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Finance in this debate. They relate to the deletion of texts from mobile telephones and the response to freedom of information requests to the Tánaiste's office. Both Ministers, Deputies Coveney and Donohoe, have stated that they regularly delete text messages from their telephones in order, as they claim, to free up space. We know that one of the messages deleted by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, was a message from Katherine Zappone inviting him to her party at the Merrion Hotel. This message was deleted as the controversy about the party blew up. In the case of the Tánaiste, we know that the response to an FOI request to his Department was that no messages relating to Dr. Zappone or the Merrion Hotel affair could be found. Twelve days later, however, such material was available.

Any logical interpretation of these facts would pose the question as to whether there was an attempt, probably a co-ordinated attempt, by the individuals involved with Katherine Zappone's appointment to hide the truth of their involvement in this shabby affair. This behaviour displays the arrogance of a political establishment whose members feel they are untouchable. It is a reflection of the culture of Irish politics and the way members of the Government parties have always done business over decades. Fianna Fáil never challenges Fine Gael on these issues and Fine Gael never challenges Fianna Fáil because they are complicit in their cronyism, jobs for the boys and girls and their lack of transparency.

I will finish by saying that what I see is a quiet word here, a text sent there, a bit of lobbying here, and soirées to celebrate and copperfasten the deal that was done. The man and woman on the street know this only too well. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, should resign and, if not, the Taoiseach should ask him to resign.

I must be brief in the 90 seconds available to me. As an MEP, I said I was proud that Ireland was represented by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on Brexit, the Northern Ireland protocol and ensuring there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland. I stand by those words. Nonetheless, tonight is a different context. Many mistakes were made and they all arose from the premise that a former Minister could lobby the two most senior Fine Gael Ministers, the Tánaiste and an ambassador for a job that at that point in time did not formally exist. This, it seems, is how business was conducted in the allocation of similar, existing posts up to that point. It was not transparent or accountable. However, the Taoiseach has said here this evening that a new transparent and accountable system has been put in place for such appointments. That, for me, is crucial.

Looking at the Minister, Deputy Coveney's, entire record as Minister for Foreign Affairs and the actions that have subsequently been taken by the Taoiseach, I will use a football analogy and say that the colour of the card for the Minister should be yellow, not red. Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. The important thing is that we learn from them. I hope that has happened.

I have an article in front of me from July 2020 by the Charlemagne columnist in The Economist. It states that Ireland has a claim, per capita, to be the world's most diplomatically powerful country. The article cites four key positions, including the trade commissionership in Brussels. Around the time that column was being written, Phil Hogan did something quite stupid. It was not a criminal offence and he has never been charged with anything, but he did something quite stupid and the Taoiseach and Tánaiste had him removed. That was, perhaps, self-serving and undoubtedly populist, but what did it achieve? A couple of months later, Ursula von der Leyen triggered Article 16 and the Irish Commissioner was not even consulted.

Turning to the situation of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, Ireland is now chairing the UN Security Council. It might be a vanity project but we are there and we need to do it properly. To remove a Minister for Foreign Affairs at this moment in time would be an act that would damage not Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Green Party, in whom I have little confidence, no more than I do in the Government of which they are part, but would damage Ireland. For that reason alone, I urge the House to support this motion.

We will now hear the reply from the Government. The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, is sharing time with the Minister, Deputy Coveney.

This debate is not about whether the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is an appropriate person to serve in Cabinet. This motion is an attempt to damage him, not because of the error he made, which should not have happened and for which he repeatedly apologised, but to sow division among the Government parties. Our citizens demand and deserve that their parliamentarians work on issues that matter to them. This motion is a distraction from that important work. It is very clear that in our first week back here in Dáil Éireann, Sinn Féin is prioritising making personal attacks rather than focusing on the important issues that matter to people.

As colleagues have stated here this evening, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is a politician of vast experience, ability and integrity. He has been deservedly praised for his careful handling of Brexit and his relationships with the EU and its institutions. He has helped to ensure that Ireland's interests and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement were at the heart of the Brexit negotiations. His tireless work in Northern Ireland in restoring the institutions there have been also widely praised. If Sinn Féin Members were honest, they would admit that he acted at all times with integrity and honesty.

I have seen at first hand his dedication to public service. In late December last year, including on Christmas Eve, instead of spending time with his family, he worked with me and colleagues across Government to ensure Irish citizens were not stranded abroad at Christmas due to the necessary restrictions that were brought in as a result of Covid-19. At all time, the interests of the Irish people were at the forefront of his response. However, Sinn Féin's view is that the Minister made a mistake and should be punished by hounding him out of office. It is such hypocrisy. Some Sinn Féin Members of this House have made very public mistakes, by making offensive and divisive statements in public and on social media, but, after apologising, they remained in their positions. Is it Sinn Féin's contention that only its Members can apologise and move on but Members of other parties must be pilloried before this House? There has been much written about Sinn Féin appointing its own members to various boards. Is that not cronyism?

Sinn Féin Members know that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, should not resign. They do not want him to do so. That is because they know there is no one within their own ranks who has the ability to deliver for Ireland on the world stage. What they want is to cause friction within Government and within the coalition parties. There is no greater good being served by this motion, which is a classic example of "Do what I say but not what I do". This underlines the cynicism at the heart of today's motion. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, entered politics to make a positive difference in people's lives. He still has that focus. Politics should be about implementing policies that make the lives of citizens better, not about personality. It should be about the good we can do, not the damage we can inflict when the occasion arises. I urge the House to support the Government motion.

First, I would like to thank everybody who has spoken in support of me this evening. Their support is much appreciated. Quite honestly, 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 did not take the issue seriously enough then. I was too defensive in interviews. I allowed speculation to drift into a political narrative that does not reflect the truth of what actually happened. By the time a comprehensive release of more than 100 documents under freedom of information by my Department allowed me to detail before committee the chronology of events - the communications, the consultations, the recommendations and the decisions - most people had already made up their minds on what had happened.

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. Government is busy and difficult enough without a preventable controversy like this one rumbling on as long as it has.

I have no intention of repeating my evidence to the committee again this evening, but I will say this: my decision to appoint a special envoy was based on a role that was conceived, designed and recommended to me following consultation with my Department. My decision - and it was my decision - to ask Katherine Zappone if she would be interested in such a role, and ultimately to appoint her months later following an extensive process, was in no way corrupt or dishonest. Although I know many on the other side of the House will not accept this, it was a genuine effort to add to the credibility and effectiveness of Ireland in an area of promoting human rights and freedom of expression. This is one of many special envoy roles that Ireland has appointed, Government after Government, and was absolutely consistent with what many like-minded countries are currently doing, including our closest neighbour, the US, Canada and many EU states. For the future, clearly there is a need to restore confidence in the role of special envoys and, certainly, the process by which they are appointed. My Department is undertaking a full review in that regard and I agree with the Taoiseach that from now on, should a special envoy be recommended, we should ensure there is an open competitive process to fill any such position.

I have been in politics for 23 years and in government for more than a decade and every day has been a privilege. I have made mistakes on that journey but I have never had my integrity questioned in the way it has been in the past month, leading to this debate. Ironically, in recent years I have worked closely with many of those who have now chosen to table a motion of no confidence in me. I have worked with them on Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol, preventing Border infrastructure re-emerging on this island, restoring the devolved institutions in the North, reconciliation and trying to find a way to deal with the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland and maintaining North-South co-operation through it all. All of those difficult achievements required trust. They required respect and an absence of cynical party politics to get important things done. The conversations I have had in private in many cases do not reflect much of the public commentary that I hear from the same people.

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. 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.

The Minister has learned nothing, absolutely nothing.

I want to sincerely thank colleagues who will vote in support of me this evening despite the fact that many of them have been less than impressed - I know that - with my handling of this controversy.

It is not the handling; it is what the Minister did.

I thank them for their trust, their sense of perspective, which is often lost in the heat of political debate, and their decency. I sincerely hope that following this motion, I can return to focusing fully on the important work of Government and the office that I am privileged to hold.

A Deputy

Business as usual.

No lesson learned. The same arrogant stance.

The Deputy is a hypocrite.

I am not the hypocrite.

You are a hypocrite.

The Minister cannot even acknowledge what he did. Business as usual.

I ask Deputies to resume their seats. The House is still in session.

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 92; Níl, 59; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Donnelly, Stephen.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frankie.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Foley, Norma.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Murphy, Verona.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noonan, Malcolm.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Joe.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Gorman, Roderic.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Shanahan, Matt.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Smyth, Ossian.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Varadkar, Leo.

Níl

  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Browne, Martin.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Clarke, Sorca.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Gould, Thomas.
  • Guirke, Johnny.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • Nash, Ged.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • O'Rourke, Darren.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Tully, Pauline.
  • Ward, Mark.
  • Whitmore, Jennifer.
  • Wynne, Violet-Anne.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Denise Mitchell and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Question declared carried.
Deputy Holly Cairns did not vote in this division due to an agreed pairing arrangement with Minister Helen McEntee for the duration of the Minister’s maternity leave.