Zappone turns down invitation to appear before committee to discuss envoy role

Taoiseach says former minister is a ‘private citizen’ as he seeks to draw line under the matter

Former minister Katherine Zappone has turned down an invitation to appear before an Oireachtas committee to discuss the special envoy controversy. Photograph: The Irish Times

Former minister Katherine Zappone has turned down an invitation to appear before an Oireachtas committee to discuss the special envoy controversy. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Former minister Katherine Zappone has turned down an invitation to appear before an Oireachtas committee to explain the circumstances surrounding her now-scrapped appointment as a special envoy.

The chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan confirmed on Monday that Ms Zappone had declined an invitation to attend to discuss the matter.

Speaking in New York on Monday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin sought to draw a line under the controversy, saying Ms Zappone was a “private citizen”.

He said: “As far as I’m concerned we’ve had enough debate about it now.”

The committee, which met last Wednesday in private session, agreed to write to the former minister and invite her to appear before it.

It is understood the decision was taken at a private meeting after it was proposed by Sinn Féin spokesman on foreign affairs John Brady and his Social Democrats counterpart Gary Gannon.

The committee is also to invite Martin Fraser, the secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach and the State’s highest-ranking civil servant, to address the issue of precisely when Ms Zappone’s name was communicated to the Department of the Taoiseach.

Controversy erupted over an attempt by Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to appoint Ms Zappone as a special envoy for freedom of expression and LGBTQ+ rights.

Mr Coveney – who is attending UN meetings this week in New York – last week faced down a motion of no confidence as a result of his handling of the matter.

Earlier this month, Mr Coveney told the Oireachtas Committee Ms Zappone was mistaken in her belief she had been offered the job last March.

Mr Coveney also rejected claims that Ms Zappone lobbied for the position or that he breached Freedom of Information legislation by deleting texts between himself and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

However, Mr Coveney apologised for “sloppiness”, and for making mistakes in the past few weeks.

Records released by the Department of Foreign Affairs show Ms Zappone texted Mr Coveney to thank him on March 4th “so, so much for offering me this incredible opportunity”.

In mid-July she sent another message of thanks but Mr Coveney has insisted nothing had been formally agreed until it came to Cabinet on July 27th.

Mr Martin was asked by reporters about the matter in New York where he is preparing to chair a meeting on Thursday of the UN security council on climate change and the threat it poses to international security.

Asked if Ms Zappone would be involved in any UN-related events this week, he said he was not aware whether or not she had been invited to any of them.

“Look, Katherine Zappone is a private citizen,” Mr Martin said.

“I think we’ll have to keep this in perspective. As I’ve been saying consistently this was a part-time position as an envoy, which hasn’t gone ahead.”

On whether he would be prepared to meet Ms Zappone, Mr Martin said “The issue hasn’t arisen. I have no problem meeting anybody. I have no problem meeting Katherine but it doesn’t arise.”

Asked if he would prefer Ms Zappone to appear before the Oireachtas committee Mr Martin said: “I think as far as I’m concerned we’ve had enough debate about it now… It’s time really to focus on the issues of substance.”