Minister says he needs to ‘re-establish credibility of appointing special envoys’

Review of role and appointment process to be completed by mid-October - Coveney

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said “any future special envoy appointments will involve a competitive and transparent process for how people are invited to apply for those roles”. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said “any future special envoy appointments will involve a competitive and transparent process for how people are invited to apply for those roles”. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

A review of the role and appointment of special envoys established in the wake of the failed appointment of former minister Katherine Zappone will be completed by mid-October.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, whose role in the controversy led to a Dáil motion of no confidence in him which was defeated, said in the Dáil on Thursday that he needs “to re-establish the credibility” of appointing special envoys.

“We have two effective special envoys working for us but what has happened in recent weeks has undermined public confidence, and confidence in this House between parties in the appointment of and potential roles of special envoys.”

He told Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould that the review was a priority. “I need to fix that,” he said of credibility around such roles.

Mr Coveney said “any future special envoy appointments will involve a competitive and transparent process for how people are invited to apply for those roles”.

No special envoy appointments will be made in any policy area until the Minister has considered the review’s recommendations, he added.

The Minister and the Government were engulfed in a prolonged controversy over the proposed appointment of Ms Zappone as special envoy to the UN on freedom of expression when it emerged that no other candidates were considered and amid claims of cronyism.

During Dáil question time, Mr Gould said there could be up to 500,000 people in the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) community in the State.

“Many of them were probably heartened to hear that the position of a special envoy for their freedom of expression was a priority for the Government and were disappointed when it fell through”.

The Cork North-Central TD said a lot of people would be well qualified and interested in the position. “Sometimes we need to look outside the box of the usual suspects.” The role was worth filling, he said.

Mr Coveney said that was why he was looking to create the position and appoint someone suitable. He said lots of other countries had been doing this for quite some time.

“We were simply looking at what other countries were doing, trying to get value for money and to put skilled people into positions where they could advocate internationally from an Irish perspective.”

Special envoys are “normally asked to do a specific job in a specific time frame for the Government to raise the profile of a certain area”.

Mr Coveney said most EU and western countries “regularly appoint special envoys, including our neighbours to the east and west”.

He said US president Joe Biden appointed a special envoy specifically for the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights this year.

“That is what we wanted to do but it clearly did not work out too well. People know why that was and so a review is under way to fix that issue.”

He added that Ireland has been a template for many other countries to follow in how attitudes towards minority groups here have changed, particularly the LGBTQ+ community through a national debate, a citizens’ assembly and a referendum on marriage equality.

“Ireland campaigns internationally in this space and it wants to protect minorities that are vulnerable and blatantly discriminated against in certain countries, sometimes violently,” he said.