Zappone contacted Varadkar about envoy role 11 days before Cabinet approval sought

Sinn Féin TD accuses Simon Coveney of changing his story about deleted texts

Former minister Katherine Zappone asked Tánaiste Leo Varadkar about her taking up a United Nations special envoy position 11 days before the Cabinet approved her nomination. Photograph: Tom Honan

Former minister Katherine Zappone asked Tánaiste Leo Varadkar about her taking up a United Nations special envoy position 11 days before the Cabinet approved her nomination. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

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

The Tánaiste’s office has released the contents of text message exchanges between Mr Varadkar and Ms Zappone, and also between him and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney regarding the appointment.

On Friday July 16th, Ms Zappone text Mr Varadkar to say: “Hi Leo, from the Piglet! I was expecting to hear from Simon C (Coveney) about my appointment as Special Envoy for Huma. Rights and LGBTQ+ issues. Have you heard anything? If you around next Wednesday hope to meet you.”

The mention of Wednesday was a reference to the event she hosted at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, which created controversy for the Government over Covid-19 protocols last month with the Attorney General ultimately becoming involved.

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

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

Mr Varadkar replied: “See you then.”

LGBT envoy

On Monday July 19th, Mr Varadkar sent Mr Coveney a text to say he would be seeing Ms Zappone and asking if he knew anything about her “becoming our LGBT envoy?”.

Mr Coveney replied: “Yeah, I spoke to Katherine tonight. She’s meeting Niall Burgess (the secretary general of his 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.”

In a text exchange on July 21st, the day of the Merrion Hotel event, Ms Zappone reminded Mr Varadkar about the gathering.

“Just remind you about the reception in the Merrion from 5.30 to 7pm. I will say a few words at 6ish.”

She then said she had met two people to review the Covid protocol for the evening.

“They will be on hand to make sure all goes smoothly.”

Mr Varadkar replied: “Will be over. Might not be until a bit after 6 though. Where in the Merrion is it?”

Ms Zappone replied: “Great! I will wait for you to speak, unless you get a lot delayed. On the Terrace, just outside the main entrance.”

Not aware

In a statement following the publication of the texts on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said he was contacted by Ms Zappone on July 16th as she was visiting Dublin and that she mentioned that she could be taking up a new role as a special envoy.

The Tánaiste said he was not aware of the appointment and contacted Mr Coveney about it seeking information as he knew he was likely to meet Ms Zappone later that week.

“Minister Coveney confirmed that his Department had been in discussions with Katherine on the role and that a memo would be brought to cabinet prior to any appointment being made,” the statement said.

“The Tánaiste made no further inquiries about the matter.

“Ms Zappone and the Tánaiste discussed the role briefly on the 21st of July at the outdoor function in the Merrion Hotel at which he expressed his support.

“The full details of the appointment were not made available until the day of the cabinet meeting on the 27th of July when Minister Coveney brought the proposal to the meeting.”

Mr Varadkar said he accepted this should have been flagged by him to Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan in advance at the leaders’ meeting, the day before the Cabinet meeting.

Different explanation

The texts seem to differ from the explanation given to the Oireachtas all-party on Foreign Affairs on Tuesday by Mr Coveney. He said Mr Varadkar had text him but did not tell the committee that the Tánaiste specifically mentioned Ms Zappone’s impending appointment.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has been accused of changing his story on why he deleted texts on his mobile phone from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and former minister Katherine Zappone. Photograph: Alan Betson
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has been accused of changing his story on why he deleted texts on his mobile phone from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and former minister Katherine Zappone. Photograph: Alan Betson

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 exchange released suggests that she was meeting Mr Burgess to finalise the contract - effectively that the decision to nominate her for the role had already been made.

Mr Coveney was earlier accused of changing his story on why he deleted texts from his mobile phone sent by Mr Varadkar and Ms Zappone.

Sinn Féin’s foreign affairs spokesman John Brady said Mr Coveney’s originally stated the texts were deleted because of a data storage issue but said this then changed when it was stated the Minister’s phone had previously been hacked.

Mr Brady said Mr Coveney told the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, when he was discuss Ms Zappone’s controversial appointment to a UN special envoy role, that he had deleted texts but had made no reference to it happening because of security considerations or a hacking incident.

Speaking to reporters at Leinster House, Mr Brady said: “I don’t buy for a second the explanation that the Minister gave (on Tuesday) that in the first instance he deleted it because he was concerned about his data usage. That quickly changed overnight that his phone had been hacked previously, something I was not aware of.

“They seem to be changing their story every time they are exposed so there is a lot of questions need to be answered. Both the Tanaiste (Leo Varadkar) and the Minister must do so now.”