Katherine Zappone held Merrion Hotel event to ‘celebrate’ time as minister

Taoiseach suggests former independent TD should provide record of correspondence over envoy job

 

The purpose of Katherine Zappone’s outdoor reception in the Merrion Hotel in July was to celebrate her time as minister for children in the last government, newly released documents state.

Among the Department of Children records are emails between Ms Zappone and department secretary general Fergal Lynch, in which she invites officials to attend a reception she hosted at the Dublin venue on July 21st.

In one of the documents released to The Irish Times on foot of a Freedom of Information Request, Ms Zappone urges the officials to reply promptly as she says she needs to keep the numbers low because of Covid-19 considerations.

Criticism of the event, attended by some 50 people including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, led to the Attorney General being asked by the Government to clarify Covid-19 public health regulations.

The event was held on the day that Ms Zappone spoke to Department of Foreign Affairs secretary general Niall Burgess about her 12-month contract to become special envoy to the UN on LGBTI+ issues and on freedom of expression.

There were suggestions the event may have related to the appointment but the invitation made clear it was held to celebrate her time as a minister. Ms Zappone ultimately did not take up the job following criticism of how the Government handled the appointment.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is on Monday due to release all its correspondence, including emails and texts, in relation to the envoy job.

Transparent

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the information provided would be “transparent and comprehensive”.

He said the documents would show “what the officials did in relation to this and I think it is good and welcome in the way it is presented”.

Mr Martin has also suggested that Ms Zappone make available her record of phone calls and texts regarding the role. Efforts to contact the former Dublin South West TD, who now lives in New York, were unsuccessful on Friday.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is due to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs next week to clarify his account of the circumstances surrounding Ms Zappone’s appointment.

The release by Mr Varadkar of text message exchanges between him and Mr Coveney, and also Ms Zappone, brought to light what committee chairman Charlie Flanagan described as “apparent inconsistencies”.

Mr Coveney is also expected to explain to deputies his practice of deleting texts from his mobile phone, which he says he has done since his phone was hacked last year.

Does not differ

He has insisted that his account to the committee does not differ in substance from Mr Varadkar’s texts, even though he had to rely on memory as he could no longer rely on the messages.

Ahead of his appearance, Sinn Féin TD John Brady said that the committee should be provided with all of the relevant documentation from the department as well as from the principals involved.

Mr Flanagan said the format of the meeting would be “under consideration over the weekend”.