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Fianna Fáil Senator says Zappone should turn down UN special envoy offer

The former minister is to be made a UN envoy.

Updated Jul 30th 2021, 9:30 PM

FIANNA FÁIL SENATOR Timmy Dooley has said former Minister Katherine Zappone should decline the offer of a post as UN envoy following controversy over her appointment. 

Cabinet approved the appointment as UN special envoy on freedom of opinion and expression on Tuesday, but Taoiseach Micheál Martin has subsequently said that “procedurally it could have been done better”.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Drivetime this evening, Dooley said he believes the former minister should now turn down the job offer.

He said he hoped that, “recognising the difficulties” and the “level of public outrage” the appointment has created, Zappone should “indicate that she’s not prepared to take up the position”.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney today told RTÉ’s News at One earlier today that he approached Zappone for the role because she was “very suitable for the role and happened to live in New York”.  

The minister acknowledged that there “was a mistake made” in how the appointment was brought to Cabinet because it “wasn’t communicated properly” beforehand.

Coveney said that he called the Taoiseach to express regret that he was not informed in advance of Zappone’s appointment being brought to Cabinet.

It is understood Zappone is set to earn €13,000-€15,000 plus travel expenses for the role with Coveney saying today that the position will involve “no more than 50 or 60 days a year”

Opposition politicians have criticised the loack of a formal process for filling the psotion with Sinn Féin TD Mairéad Farrell describing it as “Fine Gael cronyism”

Coveney said today that no other candidate was considered for the position but that “nobody is questioning” Zappone’s suitability for the role. 

“Is anybody seriously questioning Katherine Zappone’s suitability for this job?,” Coveney said.

She’s a lawyer, she’s a former politician, she’s been a campaigner all her life.

He added: “Some people have responded to this as if this was some kind of makeup job to do a favour for Katherine Zappone, it was nothing of the sort.”

Zappone was an independent TD but was a minister in the 2016-2020 Fine Gael minority administration. 

Coveney said today that Zappone was involved in Ireland’s successful bid to become a member of the UN Security Council.

He said that she subsequently told him if there was “anything she could do” to support Ireland’s work on the UN Security Council she would be interested in doing so. 

The Minister for Foreign affairs denied that Zappone had suggested this role to him and instead said the role was “developed” by his department. 

“I think you’re misunderstanding how the special envoy process works,” Coveney said during the interview.

We have looked at how other countries use special envoys to advocate and to represent a country. We decided that we wanted to use that diplomatic tool in the areas of freedom of expression and opinion. And I thought, it was my judgement, I thought Katherine would be very suitable for that role and she happened to live in New York.

Speaking about the process by which the proposed appointment came to Cabinet, Coveney said he told “the Fine Gael ministers” about the Zappone memo and that he “assumed” the Taoiseach would also be aware.

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

He said “there was no attempt to hide anything here” before telling interviewer Brian Dobson: 

Brian, don’t start trying to create a new story here now. The issue here is, as is always the case, different parties’ ministers meet before the Cabinet to go through the agenda to make sure everything’s covered and so on. I had assumed that the Taoiseach and indeed the Green Party were aware of this appointment before Cabinet. And that was a mistake, because they hadn’t been.

2457 Climate Plan (1) Zappone (background) as a member of government in 2019. Source:

Coveney said that Zappone’s appointment is still proceeding but that, after speaking to her on Wednesday, “she is obviously quite taken aback at the response.”

Tánaiste and Fine Gael Leo Varadkar has previously said that the proposal for Zappone’s appointment was not flagged ahead of Cabinet because it “slipped through” amid “46 items on the agenda”. 

Covemey said today that there were “about 60 items on the agenda”, adding: “I personally I think had seven of them.”

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Varadkar was this afternoon asked about the controversy following a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council, saying that such special envoy positions “are never advertised”. 

“Not in this state nor in to the best of my knowledge in other states, or by international organisations that have special envoys like the UN for example,” he said. 

Varadkar added that it’s a role “very similar to an honorary consul role for example, more so than a position of employment.”

“I think it is important to say that the appointment was approved by the Cabinet unanimously,” the Tánaiste said.

“Whatever about the issues around the procedure, nobody at the Cabinet table thought this was an inappropriate appointment and we all believe that former minister and former senator Katherine Zappone will do an excellent job in the role that she’s been given.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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