THE process of the appointment of former minister Katherine Zappone to a UN special envoy position has been described as a “shambles” by a Cork TD following reports of a private function that was held just days before the job was announced.
The private outdoor function, with 50 people in attendance, at the luxury Merrion Hotel, hosted by Katherine Zappone and attended by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, has been compared to Golfgate by opposition TDs.
The Government today said it had confirmed with the Attorney General that the event took place within Covid-19 regulations.
The event took place on Wednesday, July 21, six days before Ms Zappone was controversially appointed as UN special envoy on freedom of expression.
Katherine Zappone announced her decision to turn down the Government appointment following the reports of the event.
A report in the Irish Independent today said the event involved 50 friends and former colleagues of the former minister for children, who were seated at separate tables in groups of six.
This led opposition TDs to question whether the event was in line with Covid-19 regulations.
However, the Government was advised by the Attorney General that regulations provide for organised outdoor events and gatherings up to 200 people, including social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community events.
A statement said that further updates will be made to the guidelines to ensure that people have clarity about how organised outdoor events may operate into the future.
Speaking on Ms Zappone’s appointment, Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire described the whole process as “a shambles”.
He said he did not understand the logic of the position was.
“It’s even worse now when it emerges that not even a week beforehand that the same person was organizing an event that the Tánaiste was at.
“It just smacks of connections being used.”
The Cork South-Central TD said that the decision to turn it down “was the right thing to do” but said questions still need to be asked.
He added: “It’s good that it’s not going ahead but it’s been a bit of shambles and I don’t know what anyone was thinking in the first place.”
Even outside of pandemic times, Mr Ó Laoghaire said, “it’s very, very uncomfortable to imagine that somebody organized an event like this and within days, they’re offered a position”.
Speaking after reports of the event, Thomas Gould TD said the public was “really angry”.
Mr Gould said people think the situation “stinks to high heaven”.
“These are organised events for politicians and decision-makers and the whole thing then that Katherine Zappone was involved in organising this event, the people who attended it and then a week later or six days late she gets the appointment, it just looks like it’s all 'I’ll scratch your back you scratch mine'."
“To the normal man or woman on the street, there’s a lack of trust there. They don’t think it’s right.”
He said it looked “very bad” for the Government.
He added: “I think they have to realise now that when they’re in power, there’s a responsibility when you’re in power and when you’re making decisions, both public health decisions and about appointments, that you have to be very conscious of the decision you make and that they’re transparent.”
Fine Gael TD Colm Burke said: “There was a lack of transparency about the appointment. The appointment is now not going ahead, and I think it’s the correct decision that has now been made by Katherine Zappone not to make up the appointment in view of the controversy that has arisen over the way the appointment was made.”
In a statement by email, Ms Zappone said: “While I am honoured to have been appointed by the Government to be the Special Envoy on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, it is clear that criticism of the appointment process has impacted the legitimacy of the role itself.
“It is my conviction that a Special Envoy role can only be of real value to Ireland and to the global community if the appointment is acceptable to all parties.
For this reason, she said she decided not to accept the appointment.