Simon Coveney 'embarrassed' by Katherine Zappone fiasco
Simon Coveney said he is “embarrassed” by the Katherine Zappone fiasco, admitting it has not been his finest month in politics.
The minister for foreign affairs said he regrets not being more transparent when the appointment first emerged publicly at the end of July.
The long-running saga has been dragging on for almost eight weeks when it was revealed that Ms Zappone was to be appointed as a UN special envoy.
Mr Coveney admitted that how he handled the subsequent fallout contributed to it becoming a political story.
He denied, however, that he did not take it seriously at the time it emerged nor that he was “out of touch” with how people perceived the controversy.
“I’m embarrassed about this, I mean this has been a fiasco since the issue was brought to Cabinet to appoint a special envoy for freedom of expression.
“I think the motivation behind that appointment was appropriate,” he said at Fine Gael’s think-in in Trim, Co Meath.
“This hasn’t been my finest month in politics since this issue became a political issue.
“I should have dealt with a lot earlier, with a lot more detail and a lot more transparency and I think we could have answered questions in a way that wouldn’t have turned this issue into an August story that has now moved into September as well.
“So I regret a lot of those things, and certainly my role in this has contributed to this becoming a political story that it didn’t need to become.”
In documents released by the foreign affairs department earlier this month, it was revealed that Ms Zappone thanked Mr Coveney for the “incredible opportunity” to work as a special envoy.
The text was sent more than four months before Taoiseach Micheál Martin was made aware of the proposal.
However, Mr Coveney repeated his claims that Ms Zappone was not offered a job back in early March, and added that he “should have been clearer with her on that”.
Tomorrow, Mr Coveney will face a Sinn Féin motion of no confidence when the Dáil returns from the summer recess.
Mr Coveney said he hopes to move on from the saga following the vote, and said he believes he will have enough support from across government parties to see the motion fail.
“It became, subsequently, a political controversy that was handled, in my view, poorly by me, initially, that allowed it to grow into something that it didn’t need to grow into.
“And I regret that,” he added.
Mr Coveney also claimed that the taoiseach “wasn’t particularly annoyed” that he was not made aware of the appointment ahead of the July 27 Cabinet meeting.
“He was just surprised.
“I had that conversation with him, I don’t think there’s any disrespect there, to be honest,” the Fine Gael minister added.
It comes as Sinn Féin is to table a Bill to tighten Ireland’s lobbying regulations following the controversy.
The Bill would see the so-called cooling-off period extended to two years.
The cooling-off period restricts people who have served in government from engaging in lobbying.
The rules apply to ministers, ministers of state and special advisers who want to become a lobbyist.
Sinn Féin TD Mairead Farrell said she wants to extend the period from one year to two years.
Ms Farrell claimed that public confidence in political life has been “eroding”.
“I think it’s high time that we say that we will put a stop to the revolving door between government and vested interests and the whole idea of lobbying,” she added.
“We drafted a Bill in relation to lobbying which will be going before committee.
“It’s an important piece of legislation whereby it would mean any breaches of a code of conduct would be able to have certain consequences and the breach of the cooling off period would therefore have consequences.
“The cooling off period would be extended for a period of one year to two years.
“I’m also bringing forward a Bill in relation to Freedom of Information.
“We have heard government say there are no issues to do with FOI, but we know for a long time that transparency campaigners have been saying there are issues, so we are bringing forward a piece to strengthen that Bill.”
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald defended the decision to table the motion.
“A lot has been said in the aftermath of the Merriongate and the whole Zappone controversy, the taoiseach (Micheál Martin) failed to do his job in failing to sanction his minister,” Ms McDonald added.
“Therefore the opposition will do ours.
“We were really left with no option but to move this no-confidence motion.
“People will correctly say that the pressing issue on people’s minds are housing and health and that is absolutely true.
“But we also know that the insider crony culture that has marked Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in administrations now for a century has to stop.
“It’s a mess of the government’s making and Simon Coveney has never given a credible explanation for what happened.”