Republic of Ireland news

Public Accounts Committee to discuss Katherine Zappone's appointment as UN envoy

The Republic's former minister for children and youth affairs Katherine Zappone
James Ward, PA

The appointment of Katherine Zappone as a UN envoy is to be discussed by the Public Accounts Committee at a meeting in September.

The former children’s minister stepped back from the role of UN special envoy on freedom of opinion and expression after controversy arose around the manner of her appointment.

An event at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, hosted by Ms Zapppone and attended by Tanaiste Leo Varadkar, six days before her appointment, caused a political storm and led to a clarification of pandemic rules around outdoor hospitality.

Sinn Fein TD Matt Carthy, a member of the PAC, said “the decisions that led to that appointment being made haven’t been clearly outlined to the Irish people”.

PAC chairman Brian Stanley, also a Sinn Fein TD, had written to other members of the cross-party committee to get their views on whether the topic should be added to the agenda, with Mr Carthy confirming on Friday that it will be discussed after the Dail recess.

He said: “The update that we’ve received is that this matter will be on the agenda in September, after the recess.

“I would have preferred if the issue could have been dealt with at an earlier meeting, but the chair did what the chair is obliged to do.

“He contacted all the members, tried to reach a consensus, and the consensus was that the Public Accounts Committee, as I understand it, should discuss this matter but that it will wait until September.”

It was reported that Ms Zappone would earn up to 15,000 euro per year plus expenses for the role, which would have involved around 50 days’ work each year.

Controversy arose when Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney confirmed that no-one else had been considered for the role.

The position was approved by Cabinet amid reports that Taoiseach Micheal Martin had been “blindsided” when it was tabled by Fine Gael.

Mr Carthy said: “My view is that the Public Accounts Committee clearly has a role to play, because this appointment potentially could have been quite expensive from a taxpayer point of view.

“Not only was the salary involved – there was also the issue with regard to the expenses and the administration costs that would have also been associated with a post that was, I think, if we’re honest, made up to provide a favour for a former Cabinet minister.

“We don’t think that financial decisions or political decisions should be made by Government in that manner.

“I do think that the Public Accounts Committee will have a role and have something to say in respect of all of those matters.”

On Friday, Fianna Fail backbencher Marc MacSharry called on all members of Government, ministers and the Oireachtas to come forward and state if they had attended the Merrion Hotel event.

He tweeted: “In advance of a more thorough Investigation by an Oir. Comm. into the public appointment to a UN position and the bash in the Merrion, to now end speculation I think all members of gov, ministers and the oireachtas should indicate whether they were there or not.”

Mr Carthy backed the calls for clarity on who attended the event.

“I think there needs to be a lot of clarity in respect of that gathering that took place,” he said.

“What was the specifics of the invitation, who was invited, who attended?

“And what the actual purpose of it was.

“I think, in the context of what we’re talking about, I think there also are questions in terms of what role did that event play in the decision that was made, just six days later, of Cabinet to appoint Katherine Zappone to a made-up position?

“I think we do need full clarity in respect of the event and and the circumstances in which it took place.”

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