The Irish Times view on the Zappone controversy: why this matters

If ministers do not answer questions about their actions truthfully, there can be no accountability

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told an Oireachtas committee that there had been no lobbying by Ms Zappone for the role; the texts from Mr Varadkar’s phone show her inquiring after the role. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The political implications of the botched appointment of Katherine Zappone are still working themselves out. But it is clear that the events display a worrying attitude towards parliamentary and potentially legal obligations on the part of senior Fine Gael ministers which borders on the cavalier.

Several of the explanations provided by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar have proved deficient in recent days. Coveney told an Oireachtas committee there had been no lobbying by Zappone for the role; the texts from Varadkar's phone show her inquiring after the role. In response to a request from this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, Varadkar's civil servants said there were no messages on his phone concerning the appointment; that was untrue. Far from being only settled just before a Cabinet meeting, the appointment was arranged and discussed over a long period beforehand.

All this matters. If ministers do not answer questions about their actions truthfully, there can be no accountability. Freedom of Information laws which require the preservation of and access to official records – albeit with many, too many, exceptions – are there for a reason; so too are the powers of Oireachtas committees to question ministers. They are to ensure that the actions of those in power are subject to scrutiny; they are part of the system of checks and balances to which power is subject and so form a crucial bulwark of our democracy.

There is a danger that ministers are allowed to hide behind the mantra of “mistakes have been made, lessons have been learned”. This would be entirely unsatisfactory. They must say what those mistakes were, and who made them. A full publication of correspondence and files in relation to the Zappone appointment is necessary. And they must tell the public what the lessons were. Only when a full accounting for the affair, and everyone’s role in it, has been completed will the Government be able to move beyond what is a controversy entirely of its own making.