Coveney denies ‘arrogance’ in handling of Zappone appointment

Minister says he is embarrassed over ‘fiasco’ surrounding UN special envoy role

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar (left) and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney speaking to the media at the Fine Gael think-in in Co Meath. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar (left) and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney speaking to the media at the Fine Gael think-in in Co Meath. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said he did not act arrogantly in handling the “fiasco” of the Katherine Zappone appointment ahead of a motion of no confidence in him in the Dáil on Wednesday.

Mr Coveney said he was “embarrassed” by it, but stuck by the appointment of the former minister to a UN special envoy role in principle, while apologising for how it was handled.

“This has been a fiasco since the issue was brought to Cabinet and approved by Cabinet,” he admitted, but returned to his defence of his motivation for the appointment, which he said was “appropriate”.

Mr Coveney said he had seen no problem or controversy with the appointment until it emerged from Cabinet.

“This was using a process that many other countries are using to good effect and putting somebody who I felt was qualified for the job into that role. It was no more or less complicated than that.”

He said his failure to identify this as an issue did not mean he was arrogant.

“There’s no arrogance whatsoever about an effort by me as the Minister for Foreign Affairs to try to put a special envoy in place to advocate for freedom of expression and LGBTQ rights internationally.

“That’s what we were trying to do here, nobody was trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.”

Deleting texts

He also said he had not breached the Freedom of Information (FoI) law when deleting texts from his phone.

“When a conversation concludes, and information isn’t needed to be held on to on my phone, I clear unnecessary information, lots of others do that as well. But I certainly did not break any FoI rules.”

He blamed himself for the handling of the story which could have been dealt with with a “lot more detail and a lot more transparency”.

“My role in this has contributed to this becoming a political story that it didn’t need to become. It is a real frustration and quite frankly an embarrassment for me to be the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons.”

He denied the Fine Gael leadership was out of touch, and reiterated his earlier defence that Ms Zappone had misunderstood conversations with him if she believed she had been offered the job as far back as this March.

He said he “expects” to get support across Government when the confidence vote is taken, and that he has “reached out to people to give them reassurance in that regard”.

Mr Coveney was speaking after a Fine Gael party think-in concluded at a hotel in Co Meath.

Crony politics

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald defended her party’s decision to put the matter to a vote of no confidence, hitting out at “crony politics” which she claimed has been a feature of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil governments for generations.

She said Sinn Féin was left with no option but to table the no-confidence motion as “the Taoiseach failed to do his job in failing to sanction his Minister”.

However, speaking at a pre-Dáil Sinn Féin think-in, she did not rule out going into coalition with either party in the future, while emphasising that the best outcome of an election was a government without either party returning to power.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said there were “bigger issues” facing the Dáil than a vote of confidence in Mr Coveney, and he did not believe it was a priority. However, he confirmed his party would vote in favour of the Sinn Féin’s motion, citing a general lack of confidence in the Government.