Varadkar says accusations of cronyism are ‘nonsense’

Former Cabinet minister Katherine Zappone is one of the most qualified people for the UN envoy role, Leo Varadkar said.
Varadkar says accusations of cronyism are ‘nonsense’

Vivienne Clarke

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has dismissed as “nonsense” the suggestion that the appointment of former minister Katherine Zappone as UN special envoy was “cronyism”.

Mr Varadkar told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne programme that there was a procedure whereby the names of such appointments were flagged during Cabinet meetings, but in this case that had not happened.

He acknowledged that he or the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, should have informed the Taoiseach of the appointment, but that had not happened.

There had been 46 items on the agenda at that meeting “of much greater importance” which was why the matter had fallen through, he said.

The position was not “a plum, well paid” job, he said, and claimed Ms Zappone would receive only €7,000 net after taxes while she would put hundreds of hours into the work.

If the position had gone to a retired civil servant “no one would have batted an eye”, he said. Retired politicians could be a resource.

He said he understood that Ms Zappone had approached Simon Coveney about the position as she was now based in New York. She was one of the most qualified people for the job, he added.

It comes after a number of Government sources told The Irish Times that Mr Martin was unhappy he was not informed before the meeting that Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was bringing a memo on the proposal to Cabinet.

A Government spokesman said that as special envoy Ms Zappone would “focus on freedom of opinion and expression, to provide high-level engagement on a small number of established Irish human rights priorities”.

“She has a lifetime’s work helping to change the Constitution for marriage Equality and also the Eighth Amendment. She will be remunerated on a pro-rata basis, up to a maximum of 60 days a year.”

Recruitment process

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD called on Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to answer questions in relation to the appointment. He said he wanted to know what the recruitment process was, if the position was advertised and if so, how many people applied for the job.

He said he also had questions around what the roles and responsibilities were.

Defending the move, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said: “Katherine has a really strong record in public life here in Ireland.

“She’s been a member of the Oireachtas, a member of government, and she has a really big expertise in the area that we’re going to be asking her to advocate the Irish position on, which is human rights and freedom of expression.

“The justification for the role is that there are many countries at the moment that do realise there are particular values on particular projects that have to have representation at diplomatic level.”

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