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Major row breaks out in Irish Cabinet over Shared Island Unit


Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney

Taoiseach Micheal Martin’s Shared Island Unit sparked a major Cabinet row with Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.

The two constituency colleagues clashed during exchanges over the establishment of the new unit in the Department of the Taoiseach.

Mr Coveney told the Cabinet that while he supported the concept of the Shared Island Unit, he feared its establishment is “undermining” the work of his department in relation to Northern Ireland, according to sources.

Cabinet sources also said the Fine Gael deputy leader suggested the unit will reduce the standing of his position as Foreign Affairs Minister.

Mr Coveney also raised concerns over a decision to second a senior civil from the Department of Foreign Affairs to oversee the Shared Island Unit. Sources at the meeting said the Fine Gael deputy leader was “very clearly not happy” about the impact the unit might have on his position and his department.

“He was concerned that his role in Department of Foreign Affairs was being marginalised,” a source said.

“He is nervous that the unit is a bit of a power grab by Martin but that’s not the intention,” the source added.

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“Coveney was moaning about the impact it might have on his ministry and suggested it might even lessen the standing of the Taoiseach’s Office because he would be dealing with the Northern Ireland Secretary rather than the Minister for Foreign Affairs.”

Mr Coveney’s contribution at the meeting was described as “very strong and lengthy” by one source.

The Taoiseach defended the creation of the Shared Island Unit which he noted was a commitment in the Programme for Government.

Mr Martin was supported by Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien and Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath who insisted the unit was a good policy objective and had been well received. Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said he understood his deputy leader’s concerns, but ultimately said he supported the creation of the unit as proposed.

“Coveney was sent packing with a fly in his hear,” a source said.

The minister’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

A source close to the Taoiseach said the unit will be liaising with all government departments to achieve its objectives.

Meanwhile, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has written to Mr Martin welcoming the initiative, saying he is looking forward to discussing it further.

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