Junior Fine Gael minister O’Donovan boasted about Cabinet sting operation
17th September 2021
Junior Minister Patrick O’Donovan boasted to Fine Gael colleagues that he engaged in a so-called sting operation to establish whether a Cabinet minister leaked details of Katherine Zappone’s appointment as a UN envoy.
The Irish Independent can reveal Mr O’Donovan, the Minister of State at the Office of Public Works, told at least three Fine Gael TDs in recent months of his involvement in an apparent plot to trap a Cabinet minister by pretending to be on a radio station talking about the Zappone appointment to see whether that minister would tell a journalist.
Mr O’Donovan has not responded to repeated requests for comment over his role in the Zappone Cabinet leak sting operation controversy.
It comes as Higher Education Minister Simon Harris is to take legal advice regarding a likely complaint to the Dáil’s disciplinary committee over being named by Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy under Dáil privilege as being the minister behind the leak of Ms Zappone’s now-abandoned appointment from Cabinet on July 27.
Mr Carthy told the Dáil on Wednesday night during an ill-tempered debate on a motion of no confidence in Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney that “rather than dealing with the debacle, Fine Gael were running a sting operation to expose that Simon Harris had leaked the appointment from the Cabinet meeting because that is how business is done”.
Mr Harris has strenuously denied this claim and described it as “an extraordinary abuse of Dáil privilege”.
Mr Carthy said yesterday he stood over his Dáil comments, despite having no evidence to back them up.
“I am aware that it is general knowledge and generally accepted knowledge,” he told RTÉ’s News at One.
“My actions and my statement in the Dáil was completely consistent with the principle and reason parliamentary privilege is in place.”
But asked if he has any evidence that Mr Harris leaked the Cabinet information, the Cavan-Monaghan TD said: “No, because I didn’t carry out the sting operation, Fine Gael did.”
Mr Harris said Mr Carthy’s RTÉ interview was “quite extraordinary” and that he was “going to consider very strongly” a complaint to the Dáil Committee on Procedure following the remarks.
“He was making a very serious charge on the record of the house in the absence of my presence there because I was unavoidably somewhere else,” he said.
“It is untrue and it is a misuse of Dáil privilege.”
Mr Harris, who was not in the Dáil when Mr Carthy made the remarks, informally approached Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl during the vote on the no-confidence motion to express concern about what had been said.
It is understood the RTÉ interview is likely to form part of any complaint.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl last night criticised Mr Carthy and said that it was open to Mr Harris to file a complaint to the Dáil clerk that could then be referred to the Dáil’s disciplinary committee.
“I don’t feel that that type of allegation is helpful in any particular debate and the protocols that we have in place suggest that if somebody wants to make a claim they should notify the chair that they are going to do that in advance,” Mr Ó Fearghaíl told the Irish Independent.
“Obviously that didn’t happen and it rarely happens.
“It’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube, when it’s said it can’t be unsaid.
Those types of contributions are not helpful.”
Mr Carthy did not respond to calls yesterday.
Speaking in the Dáil, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also accused Sinn Féin of “abuse of Dáil privilege” by naming Mr Harris.
He said this showed, “they would trample upon people’s rights in government”.