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Zappone a ‘private citizen’ says Taoiseach, after she turns down committee invite

Zappone declined an invite to face an Oireachtas Committee over her special envoy role.

Image: Sam Boal

Updated Sep 20th 2021, 8:40 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said he is “not aware” of former Minister Katherine Zappone being invited to any UN events taking place in New York this week. 

Speaking to reporters in New York today, he said he would have “no problem” meeting Zappone, but he added “that issue hasn’t arisen”.

He said many of the UN events taking place this week are “very organised meetings” that involve heads of State. 

“It wouldn’t ordinarily be the case that an envoy would be turning up at those events,” he said, adding: “People just don’t rock up to these meetings.”

Zappone has declined an invite to come before an Oireachtas Committee to discuss her abandoned appointment as UN special envoy.

Zappone, who was offered a role as Ireland’s UN special envoy for freedom of expression, had been asked to appear before the foreign affairs committee to answer questions about the appointment.

However, a spokesperson for the committee confirmed to The Journal that Zappone has turned down the invitation.

In her response to the invitation, Zappone wrote: “I acknowledge receipt of the invitation to meet with the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.”

“I respectfully decline,” she said.

When asked if he believed Zappone should answer questions at the committee, the Taoiseach said Zappone is a “private citizen” now.

“We have to keep this in perspective, which I have been saying consistently, this was a part-time position as an envoy that hasn’t gone ahead,” he said. 

He said he wants to focus on the role of Ireland’s presidency of the UN Security Council this week.  

“I think as far as I’m concerned, I think we have had enough debate about it, we had a decisive outcome to the debate last week,” he added.

The Taoiseach said he now wants to deal with matters of “substance” facing the country.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, the Cabinet minister who communicated with Zappone about the role, was grilled by the foreign affairs committee twice over the circumstances and transparency of the appointment process.

He told the committee that Zappone did not lobby him for the role and that Zappone, who moved to New York, had reached out to him in summer of last year to say she would be available to help with Ireland’s work with the United Nations.

Sinn Féin TD John Brady, a member of the Oireachtas committee, said he believed Zappone’s decision not to attend was an “abdication” of her responsibilities of a former minister.

“The decision by Katherine Zappone to refuse an invitation to appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee is an abdication of responsibility. Her refusal is deeply disappointing and adds to the ongoing lack of transparency which has been at the heart of this long running saga,” said Brady.

“Ms Zappone owes it to the Irish people to be upfront and transparent about the events surrounding her appointment to this role. This made up role was due to be a position funded by the Irish tax payer. Therefore, it is shocking and disappointing that Ms Zappone would refuse to come before the Oireachtas and be transparent about exactly how and when she was offered the position.”

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He said that her answers “could shed light on the actions of” Ministers Paschal Donohoe, Simon Coveney, and Leo Varadkar.

“Simon Coveney has failed to provide a satisfactory account of his communications with Ms Zappone. Particularly about when exactly she was offered the position as envoy,” said Brady.

“Katherine Zappone needs to come forward and inform the committee as to when she believed that she was offered the role; a role which she thanked Minister Coveney for before staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs were made aware of the role of envoy.

Brady said he is calling on Taoiseach Michéal Martin “to make a direct appeal to Ms Zappone to accept the invitation in order to bring the truth to light”.

Cabinet approved the appointment of Zappone to the new role of UN Special Envoy for freedom of opinion and expression in late July, but questions arose around the transparency and objectiveness of the appointment process, which had not been publicly advertised.

Zappone came under further pressure after it was revealed that she hosted an event at the Merrion Hotel in July which Tánaiste Leo Varadkar attended.

Texts between Zappone and Coveney released by his department earlier this month show that she texted the minister in March to thank him for the “incredible opportunity” months before Cabinet signed off on the position.

With reporting by Christina Finn in New York

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Lauren Boland

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