Tuesday 15 October 2019

TD Kate O'Connell 'confronted Tanaiste in Dail restaurant' over his failure to support her sister's Seanad bid

SUPPORT: Sisters Kate O’Connell, Mary Newman and Theresa Newman pictured at Portobello in Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys
SUPPORT: Sisters Kate O’Connell, Mary Newman and Theresa Newman pictured at Portobello in Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Tanaiste Simon Coveney is coming under intense pressure to back Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell's sister in the upcoming Seanad by-election.

Ms O'Connell confronted the Tanaiste in the Dail members' restaurant last week over his failure to back her sister, Mary Newman, for a seat on the Seanad's agriculture panel. Ms O'Connell is understood to have grilled Mr Coveney over Fine Gael's decision to ignore her sister's candidacy in favour of former president of Ulster Farmers' Union Ian Marshall.

The Dublin Bay South TD told the Tanaiste that Ms Newman was a "life-long" Fine Gael member and, as a veterinary surgeon, was highly qualified for the role.

She also pointed out to Mr Coveney that her entire family backed his campaign in last year's Fine Gael leadership race.

Ms O'Connell, Ms Newman and their sister Theresa Newman were vocal supporters of the Tanaiste during his attempt to defeat Leo Varadkar for the Fine Gael leadership. Ms O'Connell was criticised during the campaign for describing Varadkar's supporters as "choir boys singing for their supper".

Ms Newman recently lost out to Mr Coveney's former driver Garret Ahearn at a Fine Gael selection convention in Tipperary.

A source said Ms O'Connell asked Coveney why her sister "didn't come into his head" when Fine Gael ministers were discussing who the party should back for one of two Seanad seats currently being contested.

"She asked Coveney how a person whom he was very familiar with due to the recent selection convention, who was a woman, who helped him on his campaign and done a lot for him was not one of the first people who jumped into his head when they were looking for a Fine Gael candidate," the source said. Ms O'Connell told the Tanaiste Fine Gael will be "perpetually trying to catch up with gender quotas" if the party does not support "credible women candidates".

"She pointed out that Fine Gael has only selected male non-Oireachtas members in the recent spate of selection conventions. Not one woman other than current Oireachtas women have been selected," the source added.

It is understood the Tanaiste told Ms O'Connell a vote pact between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael fell through but the Taoiseach still decided to back Marshall. Ms O'Connell is believed to have said she "did not buy" his explanation.

Mr Coveney did not respond to requests for comment last week.

The Tanaiste was asked twice by the Sunday Independent if he will back Ms Newman due to the support her family gave him during his leadership campaign but he did not respond on both occasions.

Ms Newman missed out by six votes on being selected to the Fine Gael ticket in Tipperary earlier this month. The Taoiseach has decided Mr Marshall, a unionist farmer who works in Queens University, Belfast, is Fine Gael's preferred candidate for an outside nomination on the Seanad's agriculture panel.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section