Fianna Fáil TD, Barry Cowen, has said that Katherine Zappone may have been in breach of lobbying rules when she spoke to members of Cabinet regarding a new position at the UN, because former ministers are obliged to observe a one year “cooling-off period”.
Cowen raised the issue at the Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defence this morning, saying that Zappone had not only lobbied Minister Simon Coveney and others to be appointed as a UN Special Envoy, but that in doing so she may have breached a one year “cooling off period” that precludes former ministers for seeking appointments to such posts during that time frame.
Cowen claimed that the evidence also shows that Zappone did lobby ministers and the Irish Ambassador to the UN. Department officials then proceeded to create a position centred on LGBT issues, and that Zappone “played a part in defining specifications.” This would corroborate the impression that she was indeed offered the position as framed.
At the Committee, Minister Coveney began by making a statement that he would outline the chronology of events regarding the appointment of Katharine Zappone.
He said that he had received a text message from Zappone on February 22. He claimed she had not looked for a job, but that on February 24, he had asked Department General Secretary Niall Burgess if she might be “of use” in New York. He twice again referenced the decision of Biden on LGBT envoy as influencing the decision to establish the position.
At last week’s Committee meeting Coveney had said that Zappone had “reached out to me” for assistance in securing a United Nations position, but with no reference to the Special envoy role, although it is now clear that his Department was considering the creation of an LGBT position, as was stated again last week by Department General Secretary Niall Burgess.
Coveney is claiming that Zappone may have misunderstood his exchanges with her on March 3, which is why on March 4 she thanked him for “offering me this incredible opportunity.” He claims that his discussion on the previous day was not meant as a “job offer” although Zappone clearly believed that it was.
In the context of previous vague allusions to text exchanges in the days and weeks prior to the July 27 Cabinet being informed of Coveney’s decision to appoint Zappone, the latest information would appear to strongly suggest that the decision to appoint Zappone pre-dated by weeks any official confirmation.
The same reassessment must also be made of Coveney’s statement to the Committee last week that the terms of reference for the Envoy position were only finalised on July 22. It would seem to be clear now that he and the Department, and indeed Zappone herself, had a very definite notion of what that position would focus on months earlier.
Finally, as an addendum. It is worthy of note that not one member of the committee questioned why, in a world full of horrors, that over a period in which Ireland would have a position on the United Nations Security Council, that LGBT ought to have been privileged for special attention, and that the position would be given to an LGBT activist who is an American and life long member of the Democratic Party.
Some things, clearly, are out of the comfort zone for all of them.