Zappone thanked Coveney for special envoy role before officials discussed job, records show

Former minister texted Coveney in March thanking him for ‘incredible opportunity’

The release of 100 records were prompted by 20 Freedom of Information requests concerning Katherine Zappone’s appointment as UN special envoy

The release of 100 records were prompted by 20 Freedom of Information requests concerning Katherine Zappone’s appointment as UN special envoy

 

Former minister Katherine Zappone sent Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney a text message in early March thanking him for the “incredible opportunity” of the job as special envoy.

The message came several months before Ms Zappone was formally nominated to the role of special envoy for freedom of expression by Mr Coveney, after the Cabinet was told about it in late July. She subsequently decided not to take up the role after controversy arose about her appointment.

Records released by the Department of Foreign Affairs also show that officials began discussing the job after Ms Zappone had thanked Mr Coveney. This appears to contradict explanations given by Mr Coveney when the controversy first arose in the summer. Then, Mr Coveney said the role was not created for Ms Zappone and it was only after the creation of the job was decided upon that he asked her if she would be willing to do it.

However, the records released on Monday show that Mr Coveney had been in touch with Ms Zappone about the role before officials drew up a document on the job.

The records also show that Ms Zappone contacted the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe about the job.

On March 4th, Ms Zappone texted Mr Coveney saying: “Hi Simon, thank you so, so much for offering me this incredible opportunity. It will be such a privilege and I will be so proud to serve Ireland again. I think the time is really ripe for change too.”

She immediately followed with another message: “Could you let me know time period appointment is for, and what are next steps. As you know I am working with UNFPA till mid or end of June. Thank you again so much Simon - especially when you have so much on your plate. I spoke with paschal [SIC]too yesterday. Warmest, Katherine.”

Departmental officials only began to discuss the role some weeks later.

In a statement following the release of the documents, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe sought to “give context” to the reference to him contained in the messages.

“At the end of last year Katherine sought my advice regarding a future in the UN and other international organisations. I suggested she contact Minister Coveney for advice. At some point in the New Year I mentioned this potential contact to Minister Coveney,” said Mr Donohoe.

“I had no further engagement with Minister Coveney on the matter.”

‘My work’

The documents also show further text messages with Ms Zappone seeking information about the job, which she refers t as “my work”.

On April 9th, Ms Zappone again texted the Minister: “Simon see you have a lot of your plate, as always . . . Have heard in the background that Department may be ready to discuss proposals with you for my work? Look forward to hearing from you. K”.

A month later, Ms Zappone again texted Mr Coveney, this time suggesting that the Minister has suggested that she could start in the special envoy role in June: “Hi Simon, hope all well. Any news yet? You had mentioned June as start time. Thanks, K”.

The records also show that Department of Foreign Affairs officials were discussing Ms Zappone’s efforts to get the special envoy job. Geraldine Byrne-Nason, Ireland’s Ambassador to the UN, reported to Niall Burgess, the secretary general of the department, on June 6th that Ms Zappone had made contact with her about the job.

“K Zappone was in touch today. She is working away on her UNFPA contract (seeking an extension I suspect . . .) She asked me what had happened to her nomination as LTGTBQ [SIC]envoy. She said there is radio silence from the Minister with whom she had been in touch. I told her he was run off his feet (obvious I would say!) but that I would remind you when we were in contact.”

In a statement, Mr Coveney said that he was “eager to go through all the documentation with the committee tomorrow morning”.

He said he would “give a complete explanation of the timelines and decision-making process on bringing a recommendation to Government to establish this post. The significant detail set out in the files shows the extent of work that took place within different units of my Department.”

Mr Coveney added: “I am sorry that this appointment has caused such controversy for the Government. I have apologised to the Taoiseach for the failings on my part in relation to this issue and I have no hesitation in doing so again.

“Finally, a review of envoy positions is ongoing in the Department, however I agree with the Taoiseach’s call for all future appointments to be made by open public competition.”

Gary Gannon, the Social Democrats spokesman on foreign affairs, said Mr Coveney had told the Committee at a meeting last month that he had spoken to Ms Zappone in February of this year, and did not feel she had been lobbying for a job. “Yet the outcome seems to have been she was given a job, and a job that didn’t have a brief [designed for it].

“It seems she was selected, and then a brief was designed. That suggests to me the role wasn’t nearly as important as giving Katherine Zappone a job. Simon Coveney needs to reflect on that because it looks like what it is, a divvy up of a job for someone who was close to Fine Gael,” he said, adding that the appointment “stinks to high heaven”.

Sinn Féin spokesman on foreign affairs, John Brady, said the material validated his party’s stance that it was a “made up position for a friend and former colleague of Fine Gael”.

“[Ms Zappone] seriously lobbied Simon Coveney, Paschal Donohoe and Leo Varadkar in regard to the position which was offered to her back in March,” he said, describing the March 4th message to Mr Coveney as “bizarre, because it wasn’t until 23rd of March that an email was sent asking for discussion in the Department for a possible envoy in the space”.

“A number of different drafts and concepts followed, including Katherine Zappone sitting down and writing her own job description,” he said, alleging that the former minister was “given free reign to do what she wanted following successful lobbying of three people within Fine Gael”.