Sinn Féin calls on Taoiseach to state if he has confidence in Simon Coveney amid Zappone controversy 3 months ago

Sinn Féin calls on Taoiseach to state if he has confidence in Simon Coveney amid Zappone controversy

"It's incumbent now on the Taoiseach to root out cronyism which is at the heart of his government."

Sinn Féin has called on Taoiseach Micheál Martin to state if he has confidence in Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney.

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It comes amid the ongoing controversy regarding former minister Katherine Zappone's appointment to the role of UN special envoy for freedom of opinion and expression, a position she later did not accept.

Coveney appeared before an Oireachtas Committee on Tuesday for a second round of questioning over the controversy.

Documents released on Monday show that Zappone texted Coveney to thank him for "this incredible opportunity” in early March, four months before the position was discussed by Cabinet.

Coveney told the committee on Tuesday that Zappone did not "at any stage" ask him for a job.

“She did text me for advice, on 22 February, about the possibility of working with USAID on women, gender equality and LGBTQ issues, and whether I could make an introduction for her," he continued.

“That’s all she looked for from me at that point and I didn’t respond."

Coveney said that he had begun to explore "the concept for Ireland" of a special envoy role to focus on LGBT issues after hearing that the US was looking to establish a similar role.

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He added that after conversations with the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Niall Burgess, that he reached out to Zappone on 3 March to ask if she would be interested in that kind of role should the opportunity arise.

“I told Katherine of that conversation in a phone call on the 26 February and agreed to come back to her when the Secretary General had any update," said Coveney.

“Niall Burgess subsequently came back to me a few days later to say that the Biden administration would be appointing a Special Envoy for LGBTI+ rights and that he was interested in the department exploring the benefits of such a role for Ireland.

“So, it was in that context that I raised the possibility of a special envoy role with Katherine Zappone and asked her if she’d be interested in such a role should the department develop and recommend it.”

Coveney also said that he did not make a job offer by 3 March in spite of text messages where Zappone thanks him for the opportunity.

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Speaking after the committee meeting, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence John Brady accused Coveney of "trying to spin a new yarn".

He said: "Unfortunately, what we seen today was the Minister trying to spin a new yarn, a cock and bull story and quite frankly a story that nobody believes that Katherine Zappone was not offered a position at any point, least of all back on the 4 March.

"The facts don't lie. The data doesn't lie. The released documentation doesn't lie."

Brady added: "It's incumbent now on the Taoiseach to act to root out cronyism which is at the heart of his government."

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Main images via Sasko Lazarov / RollingNews.ie and Oireachtas TV