Irish Times view on Katherine Zappone’s appointment as UN special envoy

Episode provides an unflattering insight into opaque decision-making processes

 

Depending on your perspective, the Government’s controversial appointment of former minister Katherine Zappone as a special envoy at the United Nations is either proof of the persistent influence of cronyism in Irish politics or the sort of lapse that occurs when tired politicians take their eye off the ball as they stumble towards the summer holiday.

Zappone, who served as an Independent minister in the previous Fine Gael-led minority government, is a formidable advocate who would have emerged strongly from any competition for the role of envoy on freedom of speech. Unfortunately there was none. And instead of explaining how Zappone ended up as the sole candidate, the Government went silent. Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who was not aware of the nomination in advance of the Cabinet meeting where it arose this week, said Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney apologised for not following a procedure for flagging such appointments in advance.

When he broke his silence, Coveney denied the post was a “makey up” job for Zappone who now lives in the US. His department had developed a special envoy role as a diplomatic tool and he had offered it to her because of her experience of LGBTQ issues and her work in Ireland’s successful campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Important progress has been made in recent years in removing political influence from State board appointments, and public bodies are stronger for it. There is no reason why a similarly independent and transparent process should not apply when appointing a special envoy.

Martin is right that the Cabinet has far more important issues to deal with. But the episode provides an unflatteringn insight into opaque decision-making processes. It also echoes another controversial nomination at this time last year – that of Seamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court, which was followed by similar obfuscation and pledges to reform procedures. When a government shows itself prone to repeating its mistakes, people can be forgiven for wondering what else it might be getting wrong.

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