Events of last fortnight have dealt sizeable blow to the Coalition’s credibility

The Government went into fire-fighting mode in relation to an event organised by Zappone in the Merrion Hotel

Simon Coveney: his irritable interview on RTÉ last week will linger in the mind of the public after he testily batted away suggestions that the job was a “makey-up” one for Zappone. Photograph: Getty Images

Simon Coveney: his irritable interview on RTÉ last week will linger in the mind of the public after he testily batted away suggestions that the job was a “makey-up” one for Zappone. Photograph: Getty Images

 

There is a phrase in politics, often attributed to former British Labour party spindoctor Alastair Campbell, that if you are still the story after 10 days you are toast.

Just before the special envoy saga reached the 10-day mark, Katherine Zappone bowed to the increasingly inevitable and decided not to take up the role as envoy to the UN on freedom of expression.

It was around the same time on Wednesday that the Government went into fire-fighting mode in relation to an event organised by Zappone in the Merrion Hotel, which took place not long before the Cabinet okayed her appointment. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar attended for a short while, as did Labour TD Ivana Bacik and Dónall Geoghegan, the joint chief-of-staff of Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.

The story was now being viewed through a second lens, the prism of the pandemic, with people understandably asking how the gathering was allowed when there are ongoing rows about the numbers allowed at Communions, christenings and even weddings. Helpfully for Varadkar, the attorney general weighed in to say that regulations allowed organised outdoor events and gatherings up to 200 people.

Statements from Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney landed soon after. Some “mistakes were made” in how the Zappone appointment was brought to Government, they concluded.

And then on Thursday: silence.

Ignored

No Government representative was made available to answer questions on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. At the official opening of 25 new social houses in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, there was no opportunity for questions to the Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys. Phone calls from reporters to politicians and advisers were ignored.

And in a sure sign that the Government was still in crisis-management mode, Fine Gael Minister of State Colm Brophy was put out to provide clarity on the News at One. During that somewhat confusing interview he said it was clear that there is a lack of clarity.

Businesses and the public may be given answers on Friday when Fáilte Ireland updates the guidelines.

The Irish twist on the Alastair Campbell quote about surviving a media frenzy is that this Zappone controversy could linger on for at least another 30 days, and then where does that leave the remaining key players?

Members of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs have made it clear to the chair, Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, that they still want a full hearing on the matter at the start of September.

Coveney will likely be asked to appear before TDs to answer questions, and the list will be long.

TDs on that committee say they want to know who came up with the idea to create the position, how the terms were arrived, at and why it was only Zappone who was asked.

They also want to know who else in Government was involved in the decision given Taoiseach Micheál Martin was blindsided by it when it landed on the Cabinet table in front of him.

Dropped the ball

In the meantime an interesting few hours lie ahead. Neither restaurants nor hotels groups knew they could have 200 people outdoors, and they are keen to find out how this could have happened and who dropped the ball.

The impression that has been left, whether right or wrong, is that when things got sticky for Varadkar, the levers of government were used to protect him.

For Coveney, his irritable interview on RTÉ last week will linger on in the mind of the public after he testily batted away suggestions that the job was a “makey-up” one for Zappone.

All of this is against the backdrop of Opposition accusations that the main Government parties are part of an elite circle that looks after itself, where there is one set of rules for insiders and another set for everyone else.

The events of the last fortnight have not only dealt a sizeable blow to the Coalition’s credibility, but perhaps also to the public’s perception of politics at large.

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