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Coveney admits ‘regrets’ over Zappone appointment process

The Foreign Affairs Minister defended Katherine Zappone’s suitability for the UN special envoy role.

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Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said he ‘blames himself’ for any mistakes made in the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a new UN special envoy (Niall Carson/PA)

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said he ‘blames himself’ for any mistakes made in the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a new UN special envoy (Niall Carson/PA)

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said he ‘blames himself’ for any mistakes made in the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a new UN special envoy (Niall Carson/PA)

Simon Coveney has said he “blames himself” for any mistakes made in the appointment of former minister Katherine Zappone to a new special envoy role.

The Foreign Affairs Minister insisted on Friday that the new role, which will see Ms Zappone appointed UN special envoy for freedom of expression, is not a “makey-up job”.

He said the role was not created for Ms Zappone but acknowledged there had been mistakes in how the appointment was brought to Cabinet.

On Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheal Martin said there had been an “oversight” in the procedure which saw the former minister for children appointed to the new diplomatic role, and on Thursday he said it was a matter for Mr Coveney to clarify “the full sequence of events”.

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Former minister Katherine Zappone is to be appointed UN special envoy for freedom of expression (Niall Carson/PA)

Former minister Katherine Zappone is to be appointed UN special envoy for freedom of expression (Niall Carson/PA)

PA

Former minister Katherine Zappone is to be appointed UN special envoy for freedom of expression (Niall Carson/PA)

Speaking on RTE radio on Friday, Mr Coveney said: “The putting together of a special envoy was a relatively minor issue until it blew up into a political issue.

“I was surprised when the Taoiseach said in Cabinet that he wasn’t aware of the appointment.”

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Mr Coveney said he spoke to Mr Martin afterwards to “express regret” about how the appointment had been brought to Cabinet.

“I rang the Taoiseach and said I was sorry something came to Cabinet that he hadn’t seen and he wasn’t aware of,” he said.

Mr Coveney said Fine Gael ministers were also not aware of Ms Zappone’s appointment until shortly before Cabinet met earlier this week.

He said that, for “whatever reason”, it had not been communicated at the usual pre-Cabinet meeting of advisers.

There was no attempt to hide anything hereForeign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney

“There was no attempt to hide anything here,” he said.

The appointment has been criticised by opposition parties, who have accused the Government of cronyism and a lack of due process.

On Friday, Mr Coveney defended the appointment of Ms Zappone and stressed her qualifications for the role.

He said: “My department developed a role of a special envoy. We initially looked at a role in relation to LGBTQ rights in particular.

“We decided we would broaden it out to freedom of opinion and expression.

“I contacted Katherine and asked her if she’d be willing to do this role.”

Mr Coveney said the role was not created specifically for Ms Zappone.

“I spoke to her not yesterday, but the day before. She is obviously quite taken aback at the response,” he said.

I'm sure whatever Minister Coveney said today is correct. He's the Minister for Foreign Affairs and proposed this appointmentTanaiste Leo Varadkar

He confirmed that she will work 50-60 days a year and will only get expenses for travel that have been approved by the Department for Foreign Affairs.

“Is anybody seriously questioning Katherine Zappone’s suitability for this job?” Mr Coveney said. “She’s a lawyer, she’s a former politician, she’s been a campaigner all her life.

“We had looked at how other countries use special envoys to advocate and represent a country. We decided we want to use that diplomatic tool in the area of freedom of expression.”

At a press conference following a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar was asked about Mr Coveney’s explanation.

“I’m sure whatever Minister Coveney said today is correct. He’s the Minister for Foreign Affairs and proposed this appointment,” he said.

Earlier this week, Mr Varadkar defended the way the appointment was handled and rejected suggestions that due process had not been followed.

“He handled it, I wasn’t directly involved,” he said on Friday.


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