Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney apologised for not fully following procedure in the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a special envoy on freedom of expression, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
He also suggested that it is up to Mr Coveney to clarify the circumstances of Ms Zappone’s approach to him about the job and who suggested that the role be created.
Mr Martin had previously stated that the appointment of Ms Zappone as a special envoy has been done as part of a “pilot approach” to such roles.
However, Mr Martin was not aware of the plan to appoint Ms Zappone, who served as an Independent minister in the previous Fine Gael-led minority government, prior to Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, to which Mr Coveney brought a memo with new plans for the State’s diplomatic arrangements.
The appointment of Ms Zappone as an envoy did not involve an open competition for the job and Sinn Féin has claimed it amounted to “cronyism”.
Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín has called for the decision to be reversed and the job to be filled “on the basis of merit”.
Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast on Thursday, Mr Martin said:“Clearly procedure wasn’t entirely followed in terms of the three parties. We have agreements that if people are being appointed we give each other a heads-up in terms of names.”
Mr Martin said that Mr Coveney apologised “very quick after the [Cabinet] meeting”.
The Taoiseach has been seeking to play down the matter, saying there were “far more substantive issues” on the Cabinet’s agenda on Tuesday.
He added: “There’s no issue with Katherine Zappone herself in terms of being a former senior minister, being a person who is a strong advocate in terms of freedom of expression, LGBT+ issues.”
Mr Martin said there have been “lessons learned” and “we have to take on board how people react to this, the perception of this and so on”.
He said envoys won’t be appointed in the same way in future.
Creation of the role
On Wednesday Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Ms Zappone had approached Mr Coveney about the New York-based job which will involve work with the UN.
Mr Varadkar acknowledged that either he or Mr Coveney should have informed the Taoiseach of the planned appointment and dismissed Opposition claims of cronyism as “nonsense”.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has not yet clarified whether it was Ms Zappone who suggested the creation of the role in the first place.
At a press conference Mr Martin was asked if Ms Zappone had approached Mr Coveney about a job that was already being planned or if she suggested it be created.
Mr Martin said that Mr Coveney and Ms Zappone “had a conversation and they met some time ago in relation to this”.
He also said: “I think Simon has to clarify the full sequence of that.”
The Taoiseach earlier said: "Simon Coveney has made it clear that he believes this is necessary in the context of the United Nations and he did say to me that he felt Katherine Zappone had made a contribution to the work that preceded the campaign in terms of getting membership of the [UN] Security Council. "
Elsewhere, asked on RTÉ's Morning Ireland on Thursday if he was happy with how the appointment was made, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said: "No, I don't think anyone was happy and I think the Minister of Foreign Affairs himself admitted that, in hindsight, he would have announced that differently."
Mr Ryan defended the decision to go through with the appointment, however, saying Ms Zappone has “real expertise” in the area she will be working in and has “shown over many years to be an absolute leader”.
He said she will be an “excellent envoy” in what he described as “a limited role” that is “backing up work she’s already doing”. He said Ireland will be “able to benefit and avail of that”.
Asked if such jobs should be advertised in the future, he said: “I think in all positions in all jobs we have, the more open and the more transparent it is in terms of what positions are available, yes.”