Varadkar played no part in Zappone appointment, says Coveney

Minister mentioned position to Tánaiste in text exchange 10 days before announcement

 Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney arrives for a Cabinet meeting at Dublin Castle on Tuesday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney arrives for a Cabinet meeting at Dublin Castle on Tuesday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was informed by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney that Katherine Zappone was being considered for a position as a United Nations special envoy at least 10 days before the appointment was announced.

At an Oireachtas committee examining Ms Zappone’s appointment, Mr Coveney said he made Mr Varadkar and other Fine Gael Ministers aware of the role on the morning of the Cabinet meeting on July 27th, when her appointment was approved. Taoiseach Micheál Martin was not made aware of it before the meeting.

The meeting of the committee, chaired by Fine Gael TD Charles Flanagan, was told on Tuesday about a text exchange between the Tánaiste and Mr Coveney about 10 days to a fortnight before the Cabinet meeting.

Mr Coveney said the Tánaiste texted him in mid-July that he would be meeting Ms Zappone, a former minister for children, in Dublin and if there was anything he needed to know.

“I texted back [telling him] that we were looking at a special envoy role for her,” Mr Coveney said.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said his previous understanding was that the Tánaiste only became aware of the role immediately prior to the Cabinet meeting. However, he said, now it seemed he was told of it much earlier.

Mr Coveney insisted that while he informed Mr Varadkar in the text about the “concept”, the first time the Tánaiste learned of it “in any detail” was at the pre-Cabinet meeting.

Mr Cowen asked why Mr Varadkar would ask if there was anything he needed to know if he had no knowledge of the role.

“I don’t know. I get texts back and forth from the Tánaiste all the time,” Mr Coveney replied, adding that Mr Varadkar was simply seeking an update and he had replied about the special envoy concept.

Mr Coveney said the Tánaiste had “no act, hand or part” in the process or the appointment.

No notice

When asked by Sinn Féin’s John Brady if he had been invited by Ms Zappone to an event in the Merrion Hotel, Mr Coveney said he had received a text that included details of the event but he had not paid it any notice as he was in Africa at the time it was on.

Mr Coveney also told Mr Brady that to describe Ms Zappone, a former Cabinet colleague, as a “close friend” would not be accurate.

The Minister outlined the three conversations he had with Ms Zappone, who had been a special envoy between September 2019 and May 2020 during Ireland’s campaign to secure a place on the UN security council.

“She reached out to me last summer and … mentioned she would be available to help in any way she could in our work at the UN,” said Mr Coveney. “I [also] remember speaking to her the morning of the US presidential election result.

“In February of this year we spoke, and Katherine Zappone told me of work she was doing in the UN system. At no point in that conversation did I consider that she was lobbying me for a job,” he said.

“Following on from that conversation, however, I reflected on the fact that she was a former Irish minister, had been heavily involved in our Security Council campaign, had campaigned all her life on issues of equality and was now living in New York.”

He said the new role had come about after he suggested to the department to explore if there was a useful role that could add value.

Ms Zappone eventually declined to take the role following the controversy surrounding her appointment.