Government to decide next whether to fill envoy role after Zappone withdrawal 

Government to decide next whether to fill envoy role after Zappone withdrawal 

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney with Katherine Zappone: Job was not invented for her, he says. Picture: Gareth Chaney 

The Government will next month decide whether to appoint a replacement for the role of UN special envoy on freedom of opinion and expression.

Former Minister for Children Katherine Zappone had been nominated to take the role at the end of July, but withdrew from the €15,000 a year role on Wednesday amid controversy over the manner of her appointment and around an event she held in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin days before it went to Cabinet.

On Thursday a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs told the Irish Examiner that the role will be examined after the Government returns in September.

"The process will be reviewed after August. There is merit in the use of special envoys to advance our human rights' priorities, which is why this role was created in the first place. We will discuss internally and within government and decide in due course."

Ms Zappone's withdrawal from the role comes as the opposition blasted what it called "stroke politics".

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, who nominated Ms Zappone for the role, three days later defended it saying: "Some people have said this was some ‘makey-uppey’ job for Katherine Zappone as a favour, and that is most definitely not the case.”

Sinn Féin's health spokesman David Cullinane said Fine Gael had "done favours for friends". He said the job was "made up" for a former minister and said that the Government is "on borrowed time".

"People are fed up and sick of this type of politics and cronyism. But this is one example of the failure of this government. This is just part of why people are sick to the back teeth of this government.

"This is not the first time that the Government and Leo Varadkar have been bogged down in favours for friends. It wasn't that this was a tweak to a process, the mistake was that this happened in any case."

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said despite Ms Zappone's withdrawal, questions about the job remain.

“While the Government is clearly hopeful that Katherine Zappone’s decision to decline the position as UN envoy will bring this matter to a close, questions still remain. Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has yet to give an explanation as to how this role came about, the nature of the job, the precise details of the recruitment process and whether the position is now vacant or not.
“Mr Coveney has said “mistakes were made in how this appointment was brought about”, but he has yet to tell us what those mistakes were and how he plans to address them. The minister must now answer these questions. There is no reason he cannot give that clarity today.”

Ms Zappone's event was attended by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and 50 friends and former colleagues.

Mr Varadkar says he accepts "mistakes were made" over Ms Zappone's appointment.

"I accept that mistakes were made in the manner in which Dr Zappone was appointed a special envoy and regret the controversy it’s caused."

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