Coveney under pressure to answer questions on Zappone job

Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee have all requested a hearing on matter

Several committee members said they had written to the chairman, Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, asking for an early meeting with Simon Coveney on the Zappone appointment.

Several committee members said they had written to the chairman, Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, asking for an early meeting with Simon Coveney on the Zappone appointment.

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is coming under increasing pressure to appear before an Oireachtas committee to answer questions about the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a special envoy.

There is a growing consensus amongst members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs that an early meeting must be convened as the controversy over Ms Zappone’s new role as special envoy to the UN for freedom of expression continues.

It is understood Fianna Fáil, Social Democrats and Independent members of the committee have all requested a hearing.

A number of committee members said they had written to the chair, Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, asking for an early meeting with Mr Coveney.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin on Sunday night called on Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to stop the appointment.

“It is now up to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to ensure that this appointment does not proceed. Nothing less is satisfactory,” said Galway West TD Mairéad Farrell. “This whole saga is typical of the insider politics of Fine Gael and the way they do business. The arrogance they have displayed since news that this decision was taken by Government emerged has been staggering.”

Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless has also questioned the appointment.

“If the role is about tackling Russian treatment of Navalny, Belarus suppression of democracy, assaults in Hungary on academic and judicial freedom, then I’m all for it.

“But if it is an exercise in virtue signalling, made convenient by location, I am not convinced. What are the terms of reference of the role, who sets them and who measures them? How will we know if the objectives have been fulfilled?”

Best candidate

Soc Dems TD Gary Gannon said he had questions in relation to the “absence of process”.

He said the position of special envoy was “undoubtedly an important role” but asked why there was not “an open process” to ensure the best candidate was nominated.

“The announcement timing seemed designed to avoid scrutiny,” said Mr Gannon, adding that he also wanted to know what the role involved and who Ms Zappone would report to.

It is likely that a hearing on the matter will take place in September as a number of staff are now on summer holidays, but mounting pressure could see this brought forward. A final decision on the exact date will be made in the coming days.

Fine Gael has also been engulfed in a fresh controversy over suggestions that a Minister leaked information from Cabinet about Ms Zappone’s impending appointment. It is understood the Minister under suspicion has denied the allegation to the party hierarchy.

While one senior Fine Gael member said the allegations were “very, very serious” others have sought to dampen the backlash by labelling it as a “distraction” from the larger problems around the appointment.

Last week Mr Coveney defended his decision to appoint Ms Zappone as special envoy, but said it was a “genuine mistake” not to alert the Taoiseach at an earlier stage.

Very suitable

Mr Coveney said he did not consider anyone else for the job, but also insisted his former Cabinet colleague was “very suitable” for the position, which involved highlighting issues she has campaigned on “all her life”.

He insisted 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. Mr Coveney said this was “perfectly normal in terms of how special envoys are appointed”.

Ms Zappone, who was an Independent minister in the previous Fine Gael-led minority government, has yet to comment on the controversy.