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01st Sep 2021

Leo Varadkar shares messages with Simon Coveney and Katherine Zappone ahead of Merrion event

Clara Kelly

Earlier today, Coveney said he deleted the messages due to hacking concerns.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has shared screenshots of messages between himself and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney as well as former minister Katherine Zappone.

The messages were from the week leading up to the Merrion Hotel event which hit headlines last month and contained communications about Zappone’s appointment to the role of UN special envoy for freedom of opinion and expression.

The messages were shared with RTÉ’s Political Correspondent Paul Cunningham on Wednesday and reveal the Tánaiste was contacted by Zappone on 16 July as she was visiting Dublin when she mentioned the UN role to Varadkar.

He contacted Coveney to ask about Zappone’s role ahead of meeting with her that week, to which Coveney replied: “Yes I spoke to Katherine tonight.

Coveney added: “She seems very happy about it. I plan to have it in a memo for Government next week.”

During the exchange with Zappone, Varadkar also asked whether or not the event at the hotel terrace was “definitely legal”, before adding that it was “probably okay.”

Zappone replied that the Merrion confirmed it was compliant.

Earlier today, Coveney confirmed that his Department had spoken with Zappone about the role, adding that a memo would have been brought to Cabinet before any official appointment was made.

Varadkar added in a statement to RTÉ on Wednesday that he spoke briefly with Zappone about the role at the Merrion event, saying that he acknowledges that he should have flagged the interaction with Taoiseach Micheal Martin and has since apologised.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin on Wednesday, Coveney said that the reason he had deleted the texts from his own phone was due to hacking concerns.

“I change my phone every year. I’ve been hacked and I’m the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence – so I think it’s prudent that I clear my phone fairly regularly,” he said.

Asked about the messages with the Tánaiste, Coveney said they exchanged messages “a number of days” before Varadkar was due to meet Zappone in Dublin, and he asked if there was “anything you want to brief me on”.

Coveney said that he had texted back that he was working with Zappone and his department about a “… potential role as a special envoy, but I will be bringing the details to Government in the coming weeks – and that was it.

“The fact that he [Varadkar] was asking about it [shows] he didn’t know anything about it,” he continued.

It comes as on Tuesday evening, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence noted at a meeting that he routinely deletes text messages for storage space reasons.

Coveney sought to clarify the matter on Wednesday, insisting that any related texts that were later deleted were part of a regular habit of clearing messages.

Coveney also stated that he changes his phone once a year for security reasons.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin responded to queries related to Simon Coveney’s texting habits earlier on Wednesday, noting that he himself only conducts government business in-person or via phone call.

Speaking to Bryan Dobson on RTÈ News at One on Wednesday, Martin said: “I haven’t seen the full testimony but basically, your official anything, any records in relation to official work or business is normally retained.

“It didn’t happen on this occasion in advance of the cabinet. It wasn’t a majorly significant appointment, let’s be honest about it, but it was an envoy in relation to the freedom of expression issue in the context of our UN Security Council membership. I think Simon Coveney has apologised for that, he’s been upfront about it…”

At this point, Dobson interjected to ask if the Taoiseach deletes texts himself.

“I don’t do government business by text,” he replied. “Well, I don’t. And that would be known. I don’t do government business by text. I engage with people and I ring people.”

Last month it was reported that an event at Merrion hotel on 30 July was attended by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and around 50 other people, just days before the appointment of Zappone to the UN envoy role.

The event generated a significant degree of controversy since, not least as it was made without the knowledge of Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Zappone has since confirmed that she would not accept the appointment to the role.

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