Taoiseach criticises ‘melodrama’ over Zappone envoy appointment

Tánaiste denies Zappone lobbied him about UN special envoy role in text message

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was willing to ‘fully address’ any issues that lingered over the envoy controversy. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was willing to ‘fully address’ any issues that lingered over the envoy controversy. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has criticised what he has described as the “melodrama and overdramatics”surrounding the appointment of Katherine Zappone as the Government’s United Nations special envoy.

There has been mounting pressure on Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to clear up inconsistencies in his account of events surrounding the appointment of Ms Zappone to the part-time role, which she ultimately opted not to take up following controversy over the process and amid criticism of a party she hosted at Dublin’s Merrion Hotel.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen on Thursday said he was sacked as minister for agriculture last year in similar circumstances. However, Mr Martin later said Mr Cowen’s case was not comparable to that of Mr Coveney.

He said Mr Cowen had refused to address questions regarding a drink-driving ban he had received four years previously. Mr Martin said Mr Coveney was willing to “fully address” any issues that lingered over the envoy controversy.

In an apparent effort to downplay the matter, Mr Martin argued that housing and not Ms Zappone’s appointment was what mattered to people “outside the bubble of Leinster House”. He appealed for “some balance and perspective”.

Text message

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar denied that Ms Zappone had lobbied him about the envoy position in a text message she sent to him on July 16th, 11 days before the Cabinet approved her appointment.

“Ms Zappone asked if I knew anything about it. I said I didn’t. If you looked at the definition in the Lobbying Act, seeking information is not lobbying.”

He also challenged the comparison of the event Ms Zappone hosted at the Merrion Hotel with the so-called ‘Golfgate’ event in Co Galway last year.

“To compare an event that was not in any breach of Government regulations with one where there is a prosecution pending really is saying that an apple is an orange,” he said, adding that he regretted going to the Merrion event because of the controversy it caused.

Mr Coveney, who said he had deleted texts relating to the envoy role but has not stated when, on Thursday disclosed that his phone was used “as a front” to send messages to European Union foreign ministers after it was “compromised” last year.

In a letter to the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Coveney said the hacking of his phone had been investigated by gardaí.

“As a result of this incident and others, I work on the basis that very few telecommunications are completely secure,” he said.

Mr Coveney also strongly rejected assertions that he may have misled the committee in his evidence on Tuesday.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the whole affair was one of “insider, cosy, crony politics”.

“It’s clear that a makey-up job was provided for a friend of the Government, in this case Katherine Zappone.”