Coveney to face accusations of misleading committee over UN special envoy post

Texts reveal ‘apparent inconsistencies’ in Minister’s account of Zappone’s appointment

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: said he had  deleted phone texts between himself, Mr Varadkar and Ms Zappone because his phone had been hacked.  Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: said he had deleted phone texts between himself, Mr Varadkar and Ms Zappone because his phone had been hacked. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will face questions about his evidence to an Oireachtas committee after texts revealed “apparent inconsistencies” in his account of Katherine Zappone’s appointment as a UN special envoy.

Mr Coveney is likely to face accusations that he misled the committee and there is now deep nervousness in Government about the affair.

The chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, said last night that members have been in touch with him seeking further clarification about Mr Coveney’s account to them on Tuesday of the events leading up to Ms Zappone’s appointment on July 27th.

“I have been in touch with his office on the matter of some apparent inconsistencies,” said Mr Flanagan, a Fine Gael colleague of Mr Coveney’s.

His comments came after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar publicly released text exchanges between him and Mr Coveney, and also between him and Ms Zappone.

Mr Coveney also offered a new explanation on Wednesday of why he had deleted phone texts between himself, Mr Varadkar and Ms Zappone, saying he did so because his phone had been hacked.

“I’ve been hacked, and I’m the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, so I think it’s prudent that I clear my phone fairly regularly and that’s what I do and that’s what I said [at the committee meeting on Tuesday],” he said.

Contradict

However, the texts released by Mr Varadkar seemed to contradict the account given by Mr Coveney to the committee that the Tánaiste had not specifically referred to the prospective position. In a text on July 19th, the Tánaiste explicitly ask him about Ms Zappone’s special envoy role.

In addition, Mr Coveney had indicated to the committee the role was still being discussed at the time and he had informed Mr Varadkar by text he “was looking at a special envoy role for her”.

But the texts disclose the decision had been all but made. Mr Coveney texted that Ms Zappone was meeting the secretary general of his department to “finalise a 12 month contract to be an Irish Govt Special Envoy... She seems very happy. I plan to have it in a memo for Government next week.”

Mr Coveney also told the committee Ms Zappone had never lobbied for the job. The text exchanges disclose she explicitly asked Mr Varadkar on July 16th if he had heard about her appointment.

On Wednesday, Sinn Féin TD John Brady claimed Mr Coveney had “changed his story” on why he deleted texts, while his colleague Pearse Doherty queried if Mr Coveney had deleted the texts to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests. Under the legislation, Ministers are obliged to maintain records of all communications relating to their official roles. Mr Coveney has yet to disclose the date on which the texts were deleted.

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon said he has written to the foreign affairs committee asking it to investigate the alleged phone hacking.

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