Miriam Lord: Forget the non makey-up job Micheál didn’t know about – who leaked it?

Coleen Rooney-esque sleuth unmasks the Dáil squealer while Michael D takes a stand for his holliers

Simon Coveney and Katherine Zappone: Zappone landing that job – for which she would seem eminently qualified – was a case of pure serendipity. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Simon Coveney and Katherine Zappone: Zappone landing that job – for which she would seem eminently qualified – was a case of pure serendipity. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Odd, how neither a former taoiseach nor a former tánaiste thought to mention to the current Taoiseach that Katherine Zappone was lined up for a little number in the UN. It’s not huge money or a full-time position, but it’s the type of gig that would certainly open doors in the Big Apple for a New York-based former Irish senator, TD and minister.

At this stage in their senior Government careers, Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney should know the importance of maintaining full transparency when handing out jobs to people with whom they once shared a ministerial minibus to the Áras. But Zappone landing that job – for which she would seem eminently qualified – was a case of pure serendipity.

They say the woman who served in government with them before losing her seat at the last election was simply the right person in the right place at the right time, when Coveney and the mandarins in foreign affairs decided they needed to appoint a UN special envoy for LGBTQ rights, freedom of expression and whatever you’re having yourself.

It appears at least one member of Cabinet somehow managed to steal a minute to sneak a word out to media contacts about Katherine’s new job

Katherine’s first mission will be to put pressure on the Government to reform Ireland’s punitive defamation laws, which seriously inhibit free speech and are widely seen as among the most oppressive in Europe. No, it won’t. But never mind. It’s still definitely not “a makey-up job” as a very annoyed Coveney fumed on Friday when challenged over the background to the appointment.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs, he knows best. At least that’s what he told RTÉ’s Bryan Dobson. According to the main players – apart from Katherine, who doesn’t attend Cabinet and did/did not approach her erstwhile cabinet colleague and put/did not put herself up for a role which was/was not especially created for her, although nobody else was even considered – ratifying this appointment was a minor item which surfaced briefly during a particularly packed end-of-term Cabinet meeting.

‘The real meat’

Did Micheál, Leo and Simon mention how packed it was? Micheál Martin on Wednesday: “Ah no, lookit, look. We’re coming through a pandemic. There’s 41 items on that agenda, some very substantive items, the most ambitious capital programme in Europe agreed by the Cabinet last week... That’s the real meat of yesterday, you know.”

Leo Varadkar on Wednesday: “Why did it not happen? There were 46 items on the agenda of much greater importance.”

Simon Coveney on Friday: “It was unfortunate because we had a Cabinet meeting this week with a very, very long agenda. I dunno, there was about 60 items on the agenda.”

Any advance on 60? So we know it was a busy meeting. But it appears at least one member of Cabinet somehow managed to steal a minute to sneak a word out to media contacts about Katherine’s new job. Journalist Danny McConnell tweeted the news while the Cabinet was still in session. “Breaking: Former Minister Katherine Zappone to be appointed special envoy for freedom of expression, Cabinet approve proposal brought by @LeoVaradkar. Will be paid post with international travel.”

The political gossip since Tuesday’s Cabinet leak is revolving around the delicious notion that Leinster House now has its own Arthur Conan Dáil – or Coleen Rooney

Good going there by the Irish Examiner’s political editor. His tweet was posted at 1.10pm on Tuesday. As the meeting in Government Buildings ran for another 30 minutes, TDs concluded the information had to come from within the Cabinet room, raising suspicions across the Government parties as to the identity of the squealer. Because the leak pinpointed the Fine Gael leader as the one who brought forward the memo (which he didn’t) and as the circumstances of the appointment immediately stirred up trouble for Varadkar and his deputy Coveney, the finger of blame initially pointed in Fianna Fáil’s direction. However, this may not have been the case. (Nobody is implicating the Greens, obviously.)

Arthur Conan Dáil

Locating the leaker became the talk of FF and FG. And very soon, a story emerged to rival that luminous social media mystery from 2019, involving footballers’ wives Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy.

Rooney (wife of Wayne), was dubbed “WAGatha Christie” after she allegedly caught fellow WAG, Vardy (wife of Jamie), feeding information from her private Instagram account to the Sun newspaper. She set up her own sting operation, blocking everyone but Vardy from viewing her posts, even going so far as to invent stuff about her life with wandering Wayne. Then she waited to see if this would land in the tabloids.

Coleen drip-fed the results of her riveting investigation. “I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them.” And then, as millions obsessed online, the famous reveal: “It’s. . . Rebekah Vardy’s account.” Vardy sued for defamation. The case is ongoing and the next UK high court instalment is in September.

Coleen Rooney aka ‘WAGatha Christie’. File photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty CHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 10: Coleen Rooney watches the action through binoculars at Chester racecourse on May 10, 2012 in Chester, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Coleen Rooney aka ‘WAGatha Christie’. File photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty

Back in Dublin, the political gossip since Tuesday’s Cabinet leak is revolving around the delicious notion that Leinster House now has its own Arthur Conan Dáil – or Coleen Rooney – as this person is now being called in certain circles. The big difference is that this drama is not playing out among the general public. As is always the case following a high-level cock-up (a charitable way to describe the handling of the Zappone appointment), those politicians who like to consider themselves players were on the phones quickly to colleagues and media friends complaining about the whole Zappone shambles, worrying about unease in their parliamentary parties and a possible Coalition rift.

The prime suspect, according to our source, rang a Government colleague to discuss how terrible the situation was and how it should never have happened. The colleague, already nursing suspicions, agreed wholeheartedly, even going so far as to say he had just let fly on local radio – something along the lines of “disgrace, should be reversed, the leadership should be ashamed”.

Within minutes of that call ending, the colleague’s phone rang and a journalist’s number came up. He didn’t answer. It was immediately followed up by a text from the journalist, saying one of the guys in the office had just heard him on the radio and could he clarify what he said? And here’s the sting... The TD was never on the radio. It was a set-up.

The cheeeek of the Government, lashing all that legislation into poor Michael D’s Christmas stocking when he’s all set to sail around the Áras on a raft of plum pudding

Now everyone knows who was behind the Cabinet leak, “which was intended to damage Varadkar and Coveney”, says our triumphant sleuth. “If you need to strain your cabbage, he’s the man to go to.”

We understand deputy Coleen Rooney is well chuffed. Other than that, we won’t be mentioning any names, m’lud.

Christmas cartload of Bills

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the residence/Not a creature was stirring, not even a president. The legislation was hung by the chimney with care/In hopes that a signature soon would be there...

What an outrage. The cheeeek of the Government, lashing all that legislation into poor Michael D’s Christmas stocking when he’s all set to sail around the Áras on a raft of plum pudding, before retiring to his study in his Santa Clause onesie to compose his New Year felicitations to the nation.

A week’s work in that. But just when the President is looking forward to some down time, the Oireachtas sends a cartload of Bills to the Áras for his consideration and signature. Those Bills won’t read themselves, you know. His holliers are ruined.

When the summer recess neared this year, the usual frantic dash to pass legislation happened in the Dáil. The Government pushed through laws in jig time to clear the decks in advance of the long layoff until September. It was just too much.

His Excellency sent a stinker off to Leinster House last week, telling the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl and the Seanad Cathaoirleach Mark Daly to lay off with the legislative overload or he would come to their respective chambers on alternating weeks and make a speech on a philosopher of his choice. Or something like that.

The Dáil business committee and the Seanad committee on procedure and privileges convened an emergency meeting to discuss the President’s letter. Many tuned in remotely

He wrote “to share my concern” over a pattern which has emerged in recent years whereby an “overwhelming number of Bills” are presented for his consideration in the final two weeks before Christmas and the final two weeks before the summer recess. It’s not on, he said.

He doesn’t just give them the once over and a rubber stamp. For a man with very little hair, he goes through a humongous amount of fine-tooth combs. There must be a better way to approach business “without necessary time constraints and an unseemly end-of-term haste” to have Bills wrapped up. Any ideas from Kildare Street?

And so it was, two weeks into the summer recess, that the Dáil business committee and the Seanad committee on procedure and privileges felt obliged to convene an emergency meeting to discuss the President’s letter. The members must have been absolutely delighted. Many of them tuned in remotely.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were wearing Speedos under their suits,” one of them told us on Friday, from a holiday beauty spot a long way from Leinster House. Also on the call was Alice-Mary Higgins, which had some participants watching their Ps and Qs.

“It was a bit like going to a local GAA meeting, when you can’t say anything about the senior trainer because his son is in the room.”

Serves them right. Now they know how Michael D feels when they put the kibosh on his time off. Still, it’s not all bad for Uachtarán Higgins. The meeting decided to hold further meetings with Ministers and secretaries general, the Taoiseach and the Attorney General, while Oireachtas officials and TDs are also invited to ponder the situation. So Michael D has started a conversation. He’ll be delighted.

Heather’s rural roadshow

Heather Humphreys wasn’t present at Tuesday’s controversial Cabinet meeting – at least, she wasn’t physically present. She contributed remotely instead. Heather was plugged into the national grid from the Beara Peninsula in southwest Cork and she followed the action from there.

The Minister for Community and Rural Development Humphreys was in the middle of her rural roadshow, which began nearly two weeks ago. She’s been visiting community projects in far-flung parts of the country, making good news announcements and handing out a lot departmental dosh along the way.

Part of the exercise is to promote rural hubs and remote working. She patched into the Cabinet meeting from the connected communities hub in the historic cable station on Valentia Island, exactly 155 years to the day of the first successful transatlantic cable message from Newfoundland to Valentia.

Later in the day, Heather (as stand-in Minister for Justice) hosted a citizenship ceremony from the same spot, this time connecting with 150 new citizens who were in Dublin’s Croke Park. On Saturday she will be very much in person in Croke Park when her native Monaghan faces Tyrone in the Ulster football final. Tuning in remotely won’t do in that situation.

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