Zappone controversy has 'brought the government closer together', say senior Fine Gael sources

'If Fianna Fáil or Micheál Martin mess up', there will be no problem in getting Fine Gael TDs to defend them, the source said
Zappone controversy has 'brought the government closer together', say senior Fine Gael sources

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, and An Taoiseach Micheál Martin; senior people in Fine Gael say the coalition is stronger than ever after the response to the Zappone appointment. File picture: Julien Behal

Fianna Fáil and the Greens have “earned the loyalty” of Fine Gael on foot of the Katherine Zappone affair, even from those who opposed the coalition’s formation.

This is according to very senior people in Fine Gael, close to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who have made clear that the support shown by the other parties has “brought the government closer”.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, the sources were reflecting on the fallout of the eight-week controversy, which was entirely self-inflicted, and said that should Taoiseach Micheál Martin “mess up”, then there will be no difficulty in rallying Fine Gael support for him.

“This is Fine Gael’s third coalition. This stuff brings governments closer together,” the source said. "If Fianna Fáil or Micheál Martin mess up, we’ll have no problem getting Fine Gael to bat for them.

“The Greens too. Even people in Fine Gael who were against coalition feel the other Taoiseach and the other parties have earned our loyalty,” the source added.

The senior party sources also moved to insist the so-called ‘sting’ operation involving a junior minister seeking to catch out a senior minister over leaks from Cabinet was “very much their own initiative”. 

Senior sources both in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are encouraged by the margin of victory — 92 votes to 59 – in the motion of confidence in Simon Coveney, saying it bodes well for the stability for the government.

However, there is lingering disquiet within Fine Gael over the issue and the reputational damage the ‘sting operation’ has had on the party.

Speaking this weekend, several ministers said the optics are appalling at a time when the country is facing into critical decisions in the coming weeks on matters such as the Budget, the National Development Plan, and also the expected ending of Ireland’s 12.5% corporation tax rate.

Former super junior minister and Wexford Fine Gael TD, Paul Kehoe, said the alleged sting operation to expose leaking from Cabinet was petty and childish.

TDs have also hit out at the fixation on the Zappone leak when, as they see it, the leak of the mother and baby homes report to the Sunday Independent in advance of victims and survivors seeing it was more serious and more deserving of investigation.

Meanwhile, Ms Zappone, the former Children’s Minister, is under fire to answer reports that she flew business class for official business against the express guidance of civil servants.

She took a business class flight to Dublin from New York, leaving her private secretary in economy class, on one of three trips she made as special envoy for Ireland’s campaign to win a seat on the UN security council.

Ms Zappone flew business class in September 2019 despite clear guidance being given by the Department of Foreign Affairs that it would pay only for economy tickets, according to documents released to The Sunday Times.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said: “Over the course of her nine months in the role, then Minister Zappone campaigned extensively, representing Ireland at several multilateral events and engaging in 25 bilateral meetings in New York, Dublin and in Nairobi.”

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