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Sam Boal Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney

Coveney asks to appear before Oireachtas Committee to clarify text controversy

The fallout from the Zappone controversy continues.

LAST UPDATE | Sep 2nd 2021, 5:28 PM

FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER Simon Coveney has requested to appear before an Oireachtas Committee as soon as possible to provide clarity over a mounting controversy over the deletion of text messages to the former Children’s Minister relating to her appointment as UN Special Envoy.

Yesterday, Coveney said he clears his phone on a regular basis and changes in phone every year as it has been hacked previously. 

The Government is continuing to face pressure over its handling of Zappone’s appointment, with a member of Cabinet and the leaders of Sinn Féin and Labour leading criticism today.

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 

In a letter to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Charlie Flanagan, Coveney has requested to appear before the committee. 

He also outlined in the letter that he was not trying to conceal texts with the Tánaiste. 

“If I was trying to keep texts from the Tánaiste secret I would not have been the one to tell the committee about those same texts,” Coveney wrote.

The Foreign Affairs Minister did, however, say that he didn’t know last Tuesday why Varadkar had asked him by text on 19 July about the proposed role for Zappone. 


Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has today said that the controversy surrounding the release of text messages to and from Katherine Zappone is causing a distraction for the Government.

Speaking to reporters in Newry this morning, Leo Varadkar said he did not believe the Government’s work – including the announcement of its housing plan today – was being overshadowed by the scandal.

“It’s certainly a shadow, but I don’t think it’s overshadowing what is a really important day for the Government, for the country,” he said.

“Bear in mind, the real big news stories of this week are the Government’s Covid plan, which we published only yesterday, and the Government’s Housing For All plan, which we’re going to publish today.

“So we’re focusing as a Government on Covid, on housing and the big challenges. Certainly nobody in Government is distracted anyway.”

His comments follow the release by Varadkar of text messages between himself and Zappone yesterday evening, which came amid mounting controversy over the deletion by Coveney of the text messages to Zappone. 

Several journalists have also questioned the release of messages by Varadkar after being refused access to them under the Freedom of Information Act because they apparently did not exist.

Varadkar told reporters there would not be any sanctions for the Freedom of Information (FOI) officer who failed to release text messages.

“That FOI officer doesn’t work in the department any more. There won’t be any sanctions for them,” he said.

“As I think has been explained by my department, the FOI officer did their job. They looked up the emails, looked up the paper records, didn’t find anything.

“Because I was away and my senior staff were away, I wasn’t asked whether I had any messages on my phone. That’s what happened, an honest oversight. I don’t think there will be any consequences for the official involved. It would be very unfair.”

He had earlier explained that text messages on his phone relating to the issue earlier this summer were not initially released under the Freedom of Information Act because he “was on annual leave”.

Varadkar said procedures would be put in place to avoid a repeat of the situation, but added this could mean “delays” to the FOI process.

He added that both he and Foreign Affairs Minster Simon Coveney “accept our responsibility” over the handling of the Zappone controversy.

He said the appointment of Zappone as a UN special envoy on freedom of expression “wasn’t handled in the right way”.

2.62119868 One of the text messages between Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, which the Tánaiste published yesterday.

‘Handled really badly’

Catherine Martin, Deputy Leader of the Green Party and Minister for Tourism, Arts and Sport, said the appointment has been “handled really badly” by the government. 

“I’m very disappointed by the entire process and further information that has emerged in the last 24 hours,” she told RTÉ. 

Martin said further clarity is needed now by Coveney, and welcomed that further information is to be released.

Coveney clarified yesterday that the full dossier of documents relating to the Zappone appointment will be made available. 

Martin said there are discrepancies there that need to be dealt with stating that its is “absolutely essential” that lessons now be learned.

She also said she was disappointed at the leaking of information from that Cabinet meeting about Zappone’s appointment, stating that was an”internal matter for Fine Gael”. 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald earlier told media that Coveney needed to give a “full, frank and credible” statement to the committee about Zappone’s appointment.

Also speaking on RTÉ Radio this morning, Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen called for the Taoiseach to address the “content” of the texts shared yesterday by the Tánaiste.

Cowen said the Taoiseach must address the “startling information” within the texts, as they show “quite detailed information was shared between the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs”.

The Offaly TD, who is also a member of the Foreign Affairs committee which has been examining the issue, alluded to his own sacking from Cabinet last year.

“During the course of the issues concerning, the matter for which I was held responsible, I was told this issue was dominating the public domain and was getting in the way of Government business,” he said.

“Some would argue this is getting in the way of very difficult Government business too.”

- Contains reporting from Christina Finn, Hayley Halpin and Press Association.

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