In The News: Why did Zappone’s UN envoy appointment spark a political crisis?

Government ‘boxed in by their own defence’ of the scandal, says Jack Horgan Jones

Katherine Zappone has said she will not be taking up the role of UN special envoy on freedom of expression, following days of criticism and pressure from opposition parties. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Katherine Zappone turned down the newly created role of UN special envoy for freedom of expression on Wednesday, more than a week after news first emerged of her appointment.

In a statement, the former minister for children said she was “honoured” to have been appointed to the role but that the criticism of her appointment had “impacted the legitimacy of the role itself”.

“It is my conviction that a special envoy role can only be of real value to Ireland and to the global community if the appointment is acceptable to all parties.

“For this reason, I have decided not to accept this appointment,” she said.


Ms Zappone, who now lives in New York, had been asked by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to become Ireland’s special envoy. The controversy around her appointment first started when it emerged Mr Coveney had brought the plan to Cabinet last week without informing Taoiseach Micheál Martin in advance.

The situation further escalated when it emerged Ms Zappone had hosted an outdoor party at Dublin’s Merrion hotel six days before her appointment when the country was still battling a wave of Covid infections.

So why did a part-time special envoy role at the United Nations fuel such political scandal and has it impacted the political stability of this Government?

Are there double standards at play when a former minister can hold a garden party for 50 people in one of Dublin’s most exclusive hotels but communion and confirmation celebrations are not allowed?

Political correspondent Jack Horgan-Jones tells presenter Sorcha Pollak that the Government had been “boxed in by their own defence” of the scandal but that he doesn’t think the careers of Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar have been “fatally” damaged. The incident undermined the “overall Coalition cohesion and relations within the Coalition”.

If the Government does appointment someone else to fill the special envoy role, it will still face further criticism for the lack of transparency around the initial appointment, he said.

“The Government is kind of damned if they do and damned if they don’t here,” says Horgan-Jones, adding that whoever does take the job will face further scrutiny.

“If they redesign the process and try to introduce some element of transparency into it then it’s going to be problematic because they are de facto admitting that they didn’t do it right the first way. So, no matter which way they turn they’re going to face big political consequences.”

In the News is presented by reporters Sorcha Pollak and Conor Pope.

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