Zappone did not lobby for special envoy job, Coveney to tell Oireachtas

Minister for Foreign Affairs will say it was his decision to offer position to former TD

Coveneys says  Zappone first reached out in a general sense about helping with the UN last summer. Photograph: Damien Eagers

Coveneys says Zappone first reached out in a general sense about helping with the UN last summer. Photograph: Damien Eagers

 

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will tell an Oireachtas committee that he made the decision to offer Katherine Zappone the job of special envoy and that she did not lobby him for it.

In an opening statement sent to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which is due to hear from Mr Coveney later, he said that he spoke with Ms Zappone in February of this year and she told him 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.

“Following on from that conversation however, I reflected on the fact that Katherine Zappone 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.”

Mr Coveney says that late in February he met with his department’s secretary general to review the country’s first months on the UN Security Council.

“At the end of that meeting I asked him for his view on whether Katherine Zappone could be of any use to our team in New York. He told me he would reflect on it.”

He also says Ms Zappone first reached out in a general sense about helping with the UN last summer.

‘Brief conversation’

“Katherine Zappone stepped down and left politics last summer. She moved to live full time in New York. She reached out to me last summer and in a brief conversation mentioned that she would be available to help in any way she could in our work at the UN.

“Katherine Zappone and I spoke now and again as former colleagues do. I remember for example speaking to her the morning of the US presidential election result.”

Early this year, the job was offered.

Mr Coveney said that after his request, officials in the department “recommended a role with a broad mandate, focusing on freedom of expression.”

“The Department believed this would provide enhanced capacity for high-level engagement on established Irish human rights priorities, including the human rights of LGBTI+ persons, civil society space, freedom of the media and freedom of association.

“I approached Katherine Zappone and asked if she’d be interested in taking this role in principle. She said she would and I handed the process back to my Secretary General. I was not involved at any point in discussions around terms and conditions, which isn’t unusual.

“As Minister for Foreign Affairs, I made the decision to ask Katherine Zappone if she would consider the role of special envoy. That was on the basis of my Department’s view that there was a substantive body of work to do to advance Ireland’s priorities in the areas of freedom of opinion and expression.”

The former minister for children stepped down from the position of Government envoy for freedom of expression earlier this month amid sustained criticism of the appointment process.

Mr Coveney will appear at 5pm.