Simon Coveney has defended his decision to delete text messages exchanged with other Government ministers on a regular basis because his phone has “been hacked”.
The Foreign Affairs Minister said it was “prudent” to clear his phone over hacking fears.
The Minister has come under further pressure over the controversy surrounding the abandoned appointment of Katherine Zappone and the subsequent fallout over an event at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin.
The former children’s minister stepped back from the position after a storm arose around the manner of her appointment to a new role of special envoy on freedom of opinion and expression.
On Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that any records related to Government business are “normally retained”.
At an Oireachtas committee on Tuesday, Mr Coveney revealed that while he did not receive a formal invitation to the Merrion Hotel party, he did receive a text from Ms Zappone about it taking place.
He also said that he had since deleted a number of text messages exchanged with Ms Zappone and Leo Varadkar in relation to the special envoy role and the Merrion Hotel event.
He said that these texts had been deleted for data-related reasons.
However, Mr Varadkar told reporters on Tuesday that he has no recollection of such text messages.
Speaking an event on Wednesday, Mr Coveney said he clears his phone regularly.
“I did change my phone actually every year,” he added.
“I think it’s prudent that I would clear my phone on a regular basis, rather than allowing a whole lot of texts on issues that have moved on to be sitting on my phone.
“That is a judgment that I made, I expect others do the same, but I’m open to questioning by the committee and future questioning if they want to.” The deleted text messages are subject to Freedom of Information request, and Mr Coveney said he will comply with the legislation.
“We will release a very substantial file on the whole appointment process of Katherine Zappone, which I think people will see was quite a robust process within the department, and I will make anything that I have available under the appropriate FOI request,” he added.
“I took two hours of questions yesterday and I think I answered as honestly as I could all the questions that were asked.
“I got a text from the Tánaiste a number of days before he was to meet Katherine Zappone in Dublin.
“I didn’t actually know that it was to be an event. He texted me to simply say, ‘I am meeting Katherine in a few days time and she is Dublin. Is there anything you want to brief me on’.
“I responded to say, we’re working with Katherine Zappone in the department on a potential role, a special envoy, but I’d be bringing the details to Government in the coming weeks, and that was it.
“I didn’t brief the Tánaiste in any more detail on that. The fact that he was asking me about it, he didn’t know anything about it and that was it.
“I briefed my Cabinet colleagues before the Cabinet, I assumed that other parties were doing the same before the last cabinet meeting before we broke up in the summer.
“The mistake that was made was that I should have ensured that the Taoiseach (Micheal Martin) wasn’t surprised by the appointment of Katherine Zappone in the Cabinet meeting and he was, and it shouldn’t have happened and I apologise for that.” He said there was not a “huge mystery” and that he made the decision to appoint Ms Zappone on the back of the department “making it clear that there was a worthwhile job to be done”.
“I thought she was very suitable, that is how special envoys are appointed. You get somebody that has a lot of skill in a certain area where you want to try to advance certain interests and I thought Katherine would do a good job there,” he told reporters.
“I think he accepts that.” The Taoiseach on Wednesday said that “any records in relation to official work or business is normally retained”.
Asked on RTÉ radio whether he deletes text messages, Mr Martin said: “I don’t do Government business by text.
“I engage with people. I ring people.” Asked on Wednesday about Mr Coveney’s appearance at the committee, Sinn Fein TD Eoin O Broin said the deletion of any text messages by Government ministers was “very very concerning”.
“The big question of course is whether they deleted those texts before or after an FOI request has been put in by a member of the public,” he said.
He said that the admissions raise questions about Government protocol in this area.
“This poses and opens up far more questions to this story and the ministers have serious questions to answer,” Mr O Broin added.
Earlier, the Finance Minister defended Mr Coveney over admissions he made about the Ms Zappone controversy.