Thursday 17 October 2019

Simon Coveney rebuked over FF coalition remarks

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney TD. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney TD. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin

Philip Ryan and Niall O'Connor

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney was handed a humiliating "slap down" by his Cabinet colleague Frances Fitzgerald over his unpopular remarks about entering coalition with Fianna Fáil.

Mr Coveney was met by an icy response at last night's meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party where he was told that his views are "absolutely" not shared by his fellow TDs and senators.

Just hours earlier, the Cork TD defended his suggestion of a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition, adding that he will not be "tied down by civil war politics".

However, he received a firm rebuke from Ms Fitzgerald, who said the party should not be focussing on coalition partners months out from an election.

Several sources present at the meeting agreed that the message delivered by Ms Fitzgerald represented a "slap down" to Mr Coveney.

Criticised

While Mr Coveney did not apologise at the meeting for his remarks, he insisted that they were made before Christmas during a newspaper interview and were taken out of context.

Mr Coveney was also criticised at the Labour Parliamentary meeting last night. Speaking before the meeting, Labour minister Kathleen Lynch reiterated her view that Mr Coveney displayed a sense of disloyalty.

And Labour's deputy leader Alan Kelly yesterday waded into the row, pointing out that Mr Coveney has not even been re-elected yet.

"I think all this speculation is bordering on ridiculous - we are so long away from an election," he added.

Meanwhile, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has moved to reassure Labour TDs that the party is not being "out-muscled" by Fine Gael after the Irish Independent revealed that leader Joan Burton is coming under fire from within her own ranks.

In remarks that will stoke up tensions among Fine Gael backbenchers, Mr Howlin described the Universal Social Charge (USC) as a "Labour issue" and said the referendum in May is taking place because Labour has it "on our agenda".

Muscling

"Universal Social Charge is a Labour issue. We are the people who advocated taking more and more people out of the Universal Social Charge at the bottom end and we've done that for nearly 400,000 people now," Mr Howlin said.

"We are the people who advocated lowering the level of Universal Social Charge at the bottom end and we've done that in the Government.

"So if there's any muscling, you can see that's where the muscling is being impacted," he added.

The Wexford TD was responding to an Irish Independent report which detailed how Labour leader and Tánaiste Joan Burton is coming under pressure to show more clout in her negotiations with Fine Gael.

Several party sources of all ranks say they believe issues such as USC, same-sex marriage and rural affairs are being either "hijacked" or "neglected" by Fine Gael.

A number of TDs and senators agree that the party is being "out- muscled" and say Ms Burton must do more to save Labour from an election wipeout.

Irish Independent

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