Simon Coveney ‘wasn’t lobbied by Katherine Zappone’ for UN envoy role

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney did not think he was being lobbied by Katherine Zappone for the role of Special Envoy during conversations they had since she left politics, he is to tell the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee later today.

Mr Coveney will tell TDs and Senators that as minister, it was his decision to ask Ms Zappone to consider the €15,000 for 60 days work a year, but will insist he took no part in the negotiation of terms and conditions.

In his opening statement, seen by the Irish Examiner, Mr Coveney will say the deployment of special envoys is nothing new and they play a critical role in geographic areas where Ireland has no embassy network.

He will tell committee members that after she stepped down and left politics last summer, Ms Zappone moved to live full time in New York.

“She reached out to me last summer in a brief conversation, she mentioned that she would be available to help in any way in our work at the United Nations. Katherine Zappone and I spoke now and again as former colleagues do,” he will say.

“I remember for example, speaking to her after the morning of the US presidential election result. In February of this year, we spoke again and Katherine told me of work she was doing within the UN system,” he will say. 

At no point in the conversation did I consider she was lobbying me for a job.

Following on from that conversation, however, Mr Coveney will say he reflected on the fact that Ms Zappone was a former Irish minister, had been heavily involved in our security council campaign, and a campaign all her life on issues of equality, and was now living in New York.

“Late in February, I met with my secretary-general to review our first months on the Security Council. At the end of that meeting, I asked him for his view on whether Katherine Zappone could be of any use to our team in New York. He told me he would reflect on it,” he will say.

He will say that we are currently seeing an increasingly polarised debate on human rights internationally, even within the EU. “There is significant pushback against the very definition of human rights by certain states. As a result, many states that will share Ireland’s approach to human rights have Appointed Special envoys with a mandate in this area,” he will say.

In this light, his officials recommended a role with a broad mandate, focusing on freedom of expression.

“The department believes this will provide enhanced capacity for high-level engagement on established Irish human rights priority, including the human rights of the LGBTI+ community, civil society space, freedom of the media and freedom of association”.

He will say he approached Ms Zappone and asked if she’d be interested in taking this role in principle.

“She said she would and I handed the process back to my secretary-general. I was not involved in any point in any discussions around the terms and conditions, which wasn’t unusual. As Foreign Affairs Minister, I made the decision to ask Katherine Zappone if she would consider the role of special envoy,” he will say.

Mr Coveney is due before the committee at 5pm to discuss the Zappone controversy as well as the recent events in Afghanistan.

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