The 26 County Minister for Foreign Affairs has been accused of misappropriating public funds after he quietly created a highly paid job and awarded it to a political ally after she urged him to do so.
Former Minister Katherine Zappone personally lobbied Simon Coveney for the €15,000-a-year post as ‘Special Envoy for Freedom of Expression’, which she was handed without an open competition.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was not given any notice of the employment, but failed to block it when informed.
Coveney denied it was “a makey-uppey job for Katherine Zappone as a favour”.
He said the original role considered by him and his department was “one on LGBTQ issues” but they ultimately decided to broaden it out to one on “freedom of expression” –– and he immediately felt she would be ideal for the job.
He compared his actions to US President Biden when he appointed John Kerry as a special envoy for climate change. “We have a former government minister, living in New York, I asked her to do it. We decided we wanted to proceed,” he said.
It is understood senior Fine Gael figures met with Zappone in the days before the appointment was made. Mr Martin said Minister Coveney accepted it was an “oversight” not to have informed him of the employment in advance of a Cabinet meeting, the final one before the summer recess.
But despite subsequently claiming to be concerned, he did not object to the appointment, provoking Fianna Fail backbenchers to again ask questions of his hands-off approach to government.
The Taoiseach said only “we move on now. It’s an issue you have to keep in perspective and leave it at that”.
It is unclear what functions Zappone will fulfil under the terms of her appointment. She will receive an annual salary of €15,000 for just 60 days work, as well as international travel and hotel expenses.
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar claimed the €600-per-day post is “not a plum, well-paid job”, leading to social media criticism that he has become detached from day-to-day reality.
Zappone previously served as Minister for Children and played a role in the Fine Gael-led government under Enda Kenny in 2016. She was seen to add to the pressure for Kenny’s departure and helped to clear the way for the party’s new leadership under Varadkar and Coveney.
Republicans were also not slow to point out the irony of a government which continues to censor and repress Irish republicans appointing an envoy for “freedom of expression”.
It is not the first time the coalition government in Dublin has dodged normal appointment procedures in a “jobs for the boys” scandal. The appointment of scandalised Judge Séamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court last year is the most controversial.
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín criticised the Zappone appointment. “It’s an incredible situation, that a friend, a former colleague of the Minister can simply ask for a job and get it. It shows that people with access to power have a massive advantage over regular citizens,” he said.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform Mairéad Farrell TD said it was “more Fine Gael cronyism and stinks of stroke politics from an increasingly detached government.
“It is nothing more than Minister Simon Coveney looking after a former government colleague, who was voted out of office at the last General Election.”