Leo Varadkar has denied that the Katherine Zappone controversy is causing a distraction for the Government.
He said: “I don’t think this is causing a distraction for Government. Bear in mind, I’m here in Northern Ireland doing my work as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
“Minister Coveney is in Slovenia doing his work as Minister of Foreign Affairs.” He added: “I don’t think it’s being overshadowed. It’s certainly a shadow, but I don’t think it’s overshadowing what is a really important day for the Government, for the country.
“Bear in mind, the real big news stories of this week are the Government’s Covid plan, which we published only yesterday, and the Government’s Housing For All plan, which we’re going to publish today.
“So we’re focusing as a Government on Covid, on housing and the big challenges. Certainly nobody in Government is distracted anyway.”
Simon Harris has rejected suggestions that Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney should consider resigning, as pressure continues to build over the Katherine Zappone controversy.
On Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said any records related to Government business are “normally retained”.
Mr Coveney, the Foreign Affairs Minister, admitted this week that concerns over hacking made it “prudent” for him to regularly clear text messages from his phone.
It came amid questions about when Mr Varadkar first knew about the appointment of Ms Zappone to a new role of special envoy on freedom of opinion and expression.
The former children’s minister stepped back from the position after a storm arose around the manner of her appointment and a controversial party at the Merrion Hotel.
On Wednesday, Mr Varadkar released a series of text messages exchanged between himself, Mr Coveney and Ms Zappone ahead of the party.
The texts, seen by the PA news agency, also reveal conversations about Ms Zappone’s controversial appointment as a UN special envoy, a role which she later relinquished.
The exchange shows Mr Varadkar was asked by Ms Zappone about her appointment 11 days before Cabinet met to approve her for the role.
It also emerged that Mr Varadkar and Ms Zappone discussed the role during the Merrion Hotel event in July.
Mr Harris, the Higher Education Minister, said on Thursday that neither Mr Coveney or Mr Varadkar need to resign over the matter.
He rejected the idea that the issue is distracting the work of Government.
“I’m not sure how this controversy is overshadowing the work of Government,” Mr Harris said.
“I think it is important to put a sense of perspective on this.
“No doubt, it’s statement of fact to say, there’s other members of the committee now looking for further clarifications and I expect that minister Coveney will robustly provide clarifications and indeed rebuttal to any assertion that he has been inconsistent or misled any committee.” Publication of Mr Varadkar’s text messages came amid questions about why they had not already been released under freedom of information requests.
Mr Harris told RTÉ radio that was a “genuine error” but the messages have now been released.
Meanwhile, former agriculture minister Barry Cowen, who was sacked by the Taoiseach, suggested the storm around the appointment of Ms Zappone is becoming untenable for the Government.
Referring to his own sacking, he said: “I was told that this issue was dominating the public domain and was getting in the way of Government business. Some would argue this is getting in the way of Government business too.” He said members of his party are beginning to feel that Fine Gael ministers are being treated more favourably than previous Fianna Fail ministers who had endured similar controversies.
Asked about the reaction of Mr Martin to the row, Mr Cowen said: “The Taoiseach acknowledged the text and information contained therein relating to Government business should not be deleted, but doesn’t allude to the fact about the starting information that’s contained within those texts.” He called on Mr Martin to “get hold of the situation, bring it to a conclusion, and move on”.