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'I've been hacked': Coveney says he is being 'prudent' by clearing his phone regularly

Simon Coveney said yesterday that Katherine Zappone did not lobby him for a job.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney
Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

Updated Sep 1st 2021, 1:40 PM

FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER Simon Coveney has said he clears his phone on a regular basis and changes his phone every year as it has been hacked previously.

“I’ve been hacked and I’m Minister Foreign Affairs and Defence, so I think it is prudent that I clear my phone quite regularly,” he told reporters today. 

“That’s what I do… I took two hours of questions yesterday and I think I answered as honestly as I could,” he added. 

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe also defended Coveney earlier today over admissions he made about the Katherine Zappone controversy at a meeting of the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee yesterday evening.

Donohoe said his Fine Gael colleague had answered questions fully and had acknowledged that “he and the Government could have dealt with it differently”.

Coveney said yesterday that Katherine Zappone did not lobby him for a job as special envoy to the UN. 

The former children’s minister stepped back from the position after a storm arose around the manner of her appointment to the new role of special envoy on freedom of opinion and expression.

An event at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, hosted by Zappone and attended by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, six days before her appointment, also triggered anger and condemnation and eventually led to a clarification of pandemic rules around outdoor hospitality.

At the committee meeting yesterday, Coveney revealed that while he did not receive a formal invitation to the Merrion Hotel party, he did receive a text from Zappone about it taking place.

He also said that he had since deleted a number of text messages exchanged with Zappone and Varadkar in relation to the special envoy role and the Merrion Hotel event.

Deletion of texts

He said that these texts had been deleted for data-related reasons.

When asked about the issue today, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said any records in relation to official work or business are normally retained.

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

The Taoiseach added, in an interview with RTÉ’s News at One:

“I think just on that issue, as part of the three-party government, we’ve agreed that any additional appointments or any appointments or political positions, are shared amongst us.

“It didn’t happen on this occasion in advance of the Cabinet.”

He concluded: “I think Simon Coveney has apologised for that, he’s been upfront about it.”

Coveney told reporters today that that he believes he is being prudent in clearing his phone data, rather than leaving text messages relating to a range of issues “sitting” on his phone. 

He said he would make any information available on the matter, stating that he is open to answering more questions at the committee, and will comply with Freedom of Information legislation. 

Asked about this on RTÉ radio, Donohoe said: “I keep most of the messages that come through to me. Sometimes, I do delete texts if they come through and I’ve dealt with them quickly.”

“I don’t like to be in a position that my phone is always full of text messages that I have to respond back to.

“I do keep many of the text messages that come through.”

Speaking about the communication between the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and himself about the event at the Merrion Hotel, Coveney said he got a text from the Tánaiste a number of days before Varadkar was due to meet with Zappone in Dublin.

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“I didn’t know it was going to be an event,” he said. 

The Tánaiste asked if there was anything Coveney wanted to brief him on before he met her, said Coveney, who added that he told Varadkar that the department was working on a potential role of a special envoy.

Coveney said he would be bringing the detail to government in the coming weeks.

“He didn’t know anything about it, that was it,” said Coveney.

“There isn’t a huge mystery here,” added the minister.

Asked about accusations that the appointment of Zappone was selectively leaked by a Cabinet member, Donohoe said: “I believe it is exceptionally important that Cabinet confidentially is protected.”

He said that any leaks from Cabinet “should not happen”.

Coveney said it was a matter for the Taoiseach on whether there should be an inquiry into who leaked from Cabinet. 

“We shouldn’t be having leaks from Cabinet, that is the first thing,” he said. 

“Talk about leaks is corrosive to relationships in government,” said Coveney, who said Cabinet members should be able to trust one another when discussing issues.

- Includes reporting from PA 

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