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07th Sep 2021

“It’s been a bit of a mess” – Simon Harris weighs in on Coveney row

Dave Hanratty

Simon Harris Simon Coveney Katherine Zappone row

Minister Harris denied claims of cronyism, though conceded that the Coveney / Zappone situation has been “handled badly”.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research and Innovation and Science Simon Harris has offered his two cents on the ongoing Simon Coveney / Katherine Zappone row, moving to deny accusations of cronyism in the government but admitting that the overall situation has been “a bit of a mess”.

Minister Coveney spoke before the Oireachtas committee on Tuesday morning where he acknowledged creating a “political embarrassment” over the controversy surrounding the special envoy role offered to Katherine Zappone.

Sinn Féin has been among those responding with criticism, with party spokesperson John Brady calling on Taoiseach Micheál Martin to “root out cronyism at the heart of his government and restore credibility”.

On RTÉ News: Six One on Tuesday evening, Caitríona Perry asked Minister Harris if those specific accusations hold any water.

“To many people, getting in contact with the Tánaiste, getting in contact with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, getting in contact with the Minister for Finance, getting in contact with Ireland’s ambassador to the UN amounts to lobbying for a job,” Perry began. “Do you think that there was lobbying here?”

Harris responded: “No, and as the Minister for Foreign Affairs said at the committee today, he can understand why someone would say that. But he also has very robustly made the point that it was his idea that Katherine Zappone should be our special envoy in Ireland and therefore he is the person that made that approach.”

Perry interjected, noting that “it does still look like jobs for friends and cronyism”.

“I’ve got to be really clear here, as everyone in the government has,” Harris replied.

“This has been handled badly. It’s been a bit of a mess, let’s be truthful about it. But we have also now had four hours of testimony at the committee, we’ve had about 110 documents published. Simon Coveney is known for his integrity.

“He has answered questions honestly, robustly and comprehensively. He has apologised on a number of occasions and I really think that we are getting to the point now where there are some people in the opposition who will never be satisfied with his answers. But he has put all the information out there, he really, really has.”

In closing, Perry highlighted that a member of Cabinet was responsible for leaking relevant documentation in the first place.

Asked if he was surprised by the leak, Harris said:

“I think it’s always very disappointing when there are leaks from cabinet, there’s no doubt about that. It has been a regular feature, I think, of governments for many, many years but it’s not an acceptable practice and it doesn’t help us go about doing our business and the rules are very clear in relation to that.”

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