Ireland’s special envoys should be appointed in ‘transparent manner’ - report

Government accepts recommendations after Zappone appointment controversy

The review was initiated after the controversy over former Independent Minister Katherine Zappone was appointed as a special envoy on freedom of expression earlier this year. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

The review was initiated after the controversy over former Independent Minister Katherine Zappone was appointed as a special envoy on freedom of expression earlier this year. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Ireland’s special envoys should be appointed in an “open, accountable and transparent manner” according to a review of how the diplomatic jobs are filled.

The review was initiated after the controversy over the ill-fated bid to appoint former Independent minister Katherine Zappone as a special envoy on freedom of expression earlier this year.

She ultimately declined the job amid the political row over her appointment.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney requested that his department undertake a review of the role and appointment of special envoys.

The Cabinet approved the recommendations of the review at its meeting on Tuesday.

Asked if the Government will seek to fill a similar role to the one that Ms Zappone declined now that the review has been published the Department of Foreign Affairs said “The appointment of a Special Envoy is not under consideration at this time.”

Minister Simon Coveney was said to welcomed the recommendations of the review and the Department said they would be applied to future appointments.

The review was carried out by Shirley Comerford, the chief executive of the Public Appointments Service, John Conlan and Sonja Hyland - both deputy secretary generals at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Jane Williams, a managing partner at Sia Partners and a former chairwoman at the State’s Top Level Appointments Committee (TLAC).

Their recommendations include how the Department of Foreign Affairs Management Board should make a recommendation to the Minister on the need for a special envoy on the basis of a “valid business case reflecting foreign policy objectives and priorities”.

This process will determine whether a serving official or minister could be asked to carry out the job or if a broader pool of expertise is required.

Another recommendation is that the minister will then have to seek Government approval for the creation of all future special envoy roles whether the nominee is a serving official or if an external expertise is to be sought.

In all cases expressions of interest will be sought for the roles either internally or in advertisements seeking an external candidate if one is deemed to be needed.

When the Government is seeking external candidates the review says that a detailed description of the role and its terms and conditions should be advertised with expressions of interest encouraged from a diverse field.

The Department of Public Expenditure would have to sign off on terms and conditions including remuneration if an external candidate was being sought.

The selected candidate or a short list of candidates would be presented to the Minister who would then seek final Cabinet approval for the appointment.

The review examined the appointment of Irish envoys since 2010 as well as looking at practices in other countries.

Sixteen Irish envoys were appointed over the last 12 years.

Of these 12 were related to Ireland’s successful bid to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and four to either advance Irish priorities on a specific thematic issue or to forward Ireland’s interests and values in a specific geographic region.

Those appointed include serving and retired diplomats and serving politicians.

The roles of special envoys for the UNSC campaign were described as not remunerated however, the six retired appointees were offered a once-off honorarium of €10,000 at the end of their term with five accepting and one waiving it.

Ms Zappone was not paid for her role as a special envoy in the campaign during her time as Minister for Children though travel and expenses were covered.

She would have been paid around €12,000 per year had she taken up the job as special envoy on freedom of expression.

The review found that €348,713 was spent on the four special envoy missions in existence during the years 2010 to 2021 and said the sum “appears modest”.

It found that remuneration and terms and conditions vary significantly between countries that have envoys and the appointment processes also differ.

The review says: “in this context it is clear that Ireland is not an outlier in terms of process of appointment of special envoys” and there is “no uniform approach internationally”.

The attempt by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to appoint Ms Zappone as a special envoy prompted claims by the Opposition that it amounted to cronyism due to her role as a minister in the previous Fine Gael-led minority Government.

This charge was rejected by the Government.

Mr Coveney also denied that he effectively offered her the role before his officials carried out the work to create it and that Ms Zappone’s contacts with him amounted to lobbying for the job.

He told the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs Ms Zappone was mistaken in her belief that she had been offered the job last March as implied by a text message she sent to him.

Mr Coveney did apologise for his handling of the planned appointment and he faced down a Dáil motion of no confidence tabled by Sinn Féin.