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07th Sep 2021

Simon Coveney says Zappone did not ask for job “at any stage” as he apologises for “sloppiness” of answers

Clara Kelly

He said that he “didn’t respond” when Zappone initially reached out to him in February.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that former Minister Katherine Zappone did not “at any stage” ask him for a job amid contovery over her proposed appointment as UN Special Envoy.

The Minister also apologised for the “sloppiness” of some of his previous answers to the Oireachtas on Tuesday during a second round of questioning.

He said that he “contributed to much of the criticism and commentary” over recent weeks surrounding the appointment of Zappone to a UN Special Envoy role.

“In recent weeks a lot has been said and written about me in the context of Katherine Zappone and her proposed appointment as a Special Envoy,” he said.

“I’ve had the privilege of being in public life for 23 years as a TD, MEP and government minister.

“I’ve made many mistakes on that journey, but this is the first time that my integrity has been questioned on my political actions.

“While the Taoiseach has understandably sought to put some context around the political controversy of a ‘part-time, temporary appointment’, in truth this has rumbled on for far too long and should have come to an end on the basis of a clear and credible explanation before now.”

Coveney also told the committee that Zappone did not “at any stage” ask him for a job.

“She did text me for advice, on February 22, 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.

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.

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

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has admitted creating a “political embarrassment” for Government amid the controversy surrounding the Special Envoy role offered to former Minister Katherine Zappone.

Coveney also acknowledged “making mistakes in recent weeks” saying that Zappone was “clearly” trying to establish a career for herself in the UN.

He said that Zappone was “very excited” about the prospect, as was “clear” in her text messages.

In WhatsApp messages released by the Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday it was revealed that Zappone texted Coveney on 4 March about the role, four months before he position was discussed by Cabinet.

The text read: “Hi Simon, thank you so, so much for offering me this incredible opportunity. It will be such a privilege and I will be so proud to serve Ireland again. I think the time is really ripe for change too.”

The second round of questioning comes as last Tuesday, 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.

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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