Texts show Varadkar knew about Zappone envoy job earlier than claimed

Tánaiste first made aware of UN special envoy post 11 days before Cabinet approval

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that how the proposed appointment of Katherine Zappone as UN special envoy was brought to government was a mistake and that he apologised to the Taoiseach for that. Video: PA

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Katherine Zappone asked Tánaiste Leo Varadkar about the United Nations special envoy position 11 days before the Cabinet approved her nomination.

The Tánaiste’s office on Wednesday released the contents of the text exchanges between him and Ms Zappone, and also between him and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, which show Mr Varadkar was first made aware of the imminent appointment on July 16th.

Fine Gael had previously said Mr Varadkar and other Fine Gael Ministers were first made aware of the appointment on July 27th, just before the Cabinet meeting that approved Ms Zappone for the UN role.

The text exchanges contradict this version.

Mr Varadkar has also disclosed for the first time that he had a discussion with Ms Zappone about the prospective role as special envoy for LGBTI+ issues and freedom of expression at the outdoor event she organised at the Merrion Hotel which he briefly attended.

On Friday July 16th, Ms Zappone texted Mr Varadkar to say: “Hi Leo, from the Piglet [a wine bar in Dublin]!

“I was expecting to hear from Simon C [Coveney] about my appointment as Special Envoy for Human Rights and LGBTQ+ issues. Have you heard anything? If you [are] around next Wednesday, hope to meet you.”

This was a reference to the Merrion Hotel event.

In his reply Mr Varadkar said he could make it to the event. He asked: “Is it definitely legal. Probably ok. Organised outdoor gathering of fewer than 200 people?”

Compliant

Ms Zappone replied: “Yes, it is 50 people outdoors and the Merrion has confirmed it is compliant.”

Mr Varadkar replied: “See you then.”

Mr Coveney has consistently said the former minister for children did not lobby for the position but her text message suggests she made inquiries about the role to the Tánaiste.

On foot of the exchange, Mr Varadkar texted Mr Coveney the following Monday, July 19th, to say he was seeing Ms Zappone on Wednesday.

“Do you know anything about her becoming our LGBT envoy?” he asked.

Mr Coveney replied: “Yeah, I spoke to Katherine tonight. She’s meeting Niall Burgess [the secretary general of the department] on Wednesday to finalise a 12 month contract to be an Irish Govt Special Envoy for “Freedom of Expression and Human Rights” (with a focus on LGBT). She seems very happy. I plan to have it in a memo for Govt next week. SC.”

The texts seem to differ from the explanation given by Mr Coveney to the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, when he said Mr Varadkar made no reference to the role when he texted him.

Mr Coveney also told the committee, “I texted back [telling Mr Varadkar] that we were looking at a special envoy role for her, in the area of LGBTI+ and freedom of expression.”

However, the text exchanges state she was meeting Mr Burgess to finalise the contract – effectively confirming that the decision to nominate her for the role had already been made.

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