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'You're trying to say an apple's an orange': Martin and Varadkar want perspective on Zapponegate

The Tánaiste said he regrets going “anywhere near” the Merrion Hotel event.

Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar
Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie

THE TAOISEACH AND Tánaiste have disagreed with a comparison of the ongoing situation regarding Katherine Zappone to events that led to ministerial resignations last summer.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin indicated this evening that he believes the contention surrounding Zappone’s appointment as a UN special envoy and the event that she hosted has been inappropriately “elevated”.

In late July, former minister Zappone was appointed to a new role of UN Special Envoy for freedom of opinion and expression.

However, the role had not been publicly advertised, leading to concerns about transparency and objectiveness around the appointment process.

A few days before her appointment, Zappone hosted an event at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin which was attended by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney appeared before an Oireachtas Committee to face questions about the appointment this week and is expected to come before it again to give clarity over differing versions of events.

At a press conference for the launch of a new housing plan this evening, the government leaders were asked about the difference in response to the Zappone controversy compared to two instances last year where Fianna Fáil Cabinet ministers ultimately left their positions.

In the case of Barry Cowen, who was sacked from his role as Minister for Agriculture after it emerged he was issued a driving ban in 2016 for drink-driving, Martin said that he was “left with no alternative” when Cowen would not “go into the House and give full transparency”.

“I don’t think that the situations are comparable,” Martin said.

“Minister Coveney has already written to the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee saying he’s going to go before the committee again to fully address any issues that still arise or need to be addressed or any queries that the members of that committee have in relation to the appointment of Katherine Zappone that hasn’t gone ahead,” he said.

“The bottom line was I’d asked a minister in my Cabinet to go before the Dáil to clarify issues of significant importance that had been raised in the public domain and the minister decided he wasn’t going to do that, he wanted to go another route.”

The Taoiseach had brought the text of the statement he made last year upon Cowen’s termination to the launch of the housing plan this evening. 

“I just think there’s a tendency in modern political discourse to elevate issues of this kind that they should not be elevated to,” he said. 

Speaking about Dara Calleary, who had replaced Cowen as agriculture minister and resigned after his attendance at the Oireachtas Golf Society event in Galway in August 2020, Martin said he “paid a very high price, very sad[ly], because he’s a very fine public representative”.

“He did pay a high price in terms of the attendance at that event which followed government decisions or regulations that government had taken in respect of Covid-19,” the Taoiseach said.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar added: “I think what you’re trying to do is say that an apple’s an orange.”

“The outdoor gathering in the Merrion did not break any government regulations, did not breach any law,” Varadkar said.

“When it comes to that other gathering, there is a prosecution pending. It’s a very different set of circumstances,” he said.

“I regret going anywhere near the place, even if it was only for 40 minutes, absolutely, because of the controversy it’s caused.”

Yesterday, Varadkar released screenshots of conversations with Zappone and Coveney (separately) regarding the Merrion Hotel event and her prospective appointment as a UN special envoy.

Text messages between the Tánaiste and Zappone detail her inviting him to the event and discussion of whether it was “definitely legal”.

Zappone asked Varadkar whether he had “heard anything” about her appointment to the role, to which he said “nope”.

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Texts between Varadkar and Coveney show that the Tánaiste then texted the minister to ask if he “knew anything” about Zappone taking on the envoy role.

Zappone ultimately said that she would not be accepting the role.

She had been in line to earn €13,000-€15,000 before tax for 50 or 60 days’ work a year.

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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