home News The Katherine Zappone controversy, explained simply

The Katherine Zappone controversy, explained simply

by Samantha Calthrop

Another week, another controversy in the Dáil – but what have Fine Gael done this time? This month’s current heap of baloney revolves around former TD Katherine Zappone, and her appointment as special envoy to the UN. The affair has been long, convoluted, and arguably pointless – but if you haven’t been keeping up, the Express can answer all the questions you might have.

What did Zappone do, exactly? Well, nothing, actually. It’s the others who are in trouble. The current consensus is that a while ago, Zappone was privately offered a job as UN special envoy by Coveney. Fine Gael didn’t say anything about this until it was announced at a cabinet meeting several months later, having already been finalised. Fianna Fáil and the Green Party both had no idea that this had been done, although they didn’t seem to mind too much, with the Taoiseach suggesting they “we move on now” when the Opposition picked up on it. Of course, Sinn Féin did not move on and it sparked a media frenzy and subsequent investigation.

What’s a UN special envoy? The special envoy involves 50-60 days of work a year and has been described as a “symbolic” role rather than a real one. Katherine Zappone’s role would have had her serve as an envoy on “freedom of opinion and expression”, or more accurately as an activist for LGBTQ+ rights. With that said, the role would have paid €15,000 a year and didn’t exist before her appointment. People have been accusing Fine Gael of “cronyism”, claiming that they invented this role especially for her as a favour and not out of any genuine political need or reason. It doesn’t help that the role was never advertised and not offered to anyone else.

Whose idea was that? As far as we can tell, it was Simon Coveney, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, that offered her the job – although speculation is rife that she asked for it first. Fine Gael have denied that Zappone asked for the role to be created, saying that she and Coveney had a conversation about her work and then some time afterwards Coveney drew up plans to appoint a special envoy. There are text messages showing Zappone asking Coveney about her new role on a regular basis in the months leading up to the announcement to the Dáil, and more between Coveney and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar discussing it. (Of course, Coveney has stated that he deletes random texts from his phone regularly because of “hacking”, so not all of the evidence is available.) Coveney initially said that the questions from Zappone about her new job might have been due to a misunderstanding, but abandoned that line of reasoning once more evidence came out.

So, were there any consequences? Well, Zappone decided to turn down the role after the media storm. (Plus, she’d been caught hosting a 200-person outdoor party in August.) Simon Coveney faced a No Confidence motion from the Government, largely spearheaded by The Sinn Féin and backed by the Labour party, the Social Democrats, and Solidarity-PBP. Of course, the coalition government supported their Foreign Affairs Minister and the motion failed to pass, 92 votes to 59. And otherwise? No, not really. The Dáil will continue trundling along without any major changes. Until, of course, the next controversy. 

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