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The Zappone controversy and Ireland's pandemic of corruption

Fianna Fáil fall victim, Sinn Féin advance


Katherine Zappone: the former minister announced on August 4th thatshe would
not take the special envoy job after more than a week of political pressure. Photograph: Damien Eagers

Fine Gael Foreign Minister Simon Coveney got into trouble recently when it emerged that in response to personal lobbying by former government minister Katherine Zappone he had agreed without consulting parliament to appoint her to the role of Special Envoy to the UN, ignoring the requirement to publicise the position to any other possible candidate.

Former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had a part in the scandal as he and Coveney had agreed in response to Zappone's invitation to attend a function in a Dublin Hotel that was highly questionable in regards to lockdown rules at the time. Varadkar had responded to a text Zappone had sent him asking about the job Coveney had promised her. He then contacted Coveney to find out and Coveney responded that the appointment had indeed been made and that he would be at the party.

It was after the party that the appointment was publicly confirmed.

Stinks doesn't it?

It emerged that Zappone had also devised the remit of the job herself in consultation with Coveney and Niall Burgess. The title agreed to was Special Envoy for Freedom of Expression which was also to have a special emphasis on LGBTQI matters, seen as Zappone's area of speciality.

Katherine Zappone, an American academic and human rights activist became an Irish citizen in 1995. After she and her partner had been refused a same sex marriage in Canada they settled in Ireland where her partner was from. Here they won a case in the High Court to have their marriage recognised which made international news and was instrumental in kicking off a debate which eventually led to the referendum making same sex marriage legal in Ireland. Zappone "re-proposed" to her partner on Irish radio. The couple were the subject of reality TV shows like Room to Improve in 2013 where they had their home made over for over €100,000.

Although Zappone has been at the forefront of the liberalisation agenda in Ireland her career is also characterised by an increasing closeness to the wielders of political power in Irish society. It was this privilege which she exploited which was her eventual undoing. She became part of a political class in which cronyism and financial enrichment is endemic.

Reports have come out in the press that Zappone defrauded her travel expenses account for tens of thousands of euros by claiming she lived more than 25km from Leicester House when she didn't. Zappone said it was for the distance she drove on the roads! She was never even questioned about this.

Then a recent report exposed Zappone for billing the government for a business class flight to New York after being instructed to travel in economy class. Zappone left her aide to travel in economy.

Simon Coveney realised when the scandal broke that it was best to say he had made a mistake probably because the indicting facts were so stark.

"It is a real embarrassment for me to be the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons" he said.

Coveney's appearance before the Dail committee only served to solidify the stink, especially when he admitted he had deleted all texts relating to contact with Zappone. She herself refused to return and testify.

Sinn Fein called for a vote of no confidence in the minister. As had been expected there was no significant rebellion on the government benches excepting one FF TD,

However, it's the stink of corruption in the government that is dominant and the seeming impossibility of holding them to account for corruption. Support for the government continues to decline. The losers here are Fianna Fail, forced to defend a rival Fine Gael politician to save the coalition government, and the winners are Sinn Féin,  presenting themselves as the defenders of morality.

Sinn Fein support has increased and Fianna Fail support continues to decline. The revolt by Marc McSharry,  who resigned from FF in disgust at the threat of his party to remove the whip for six months to anyone who voted for the no confidence motion, makes it much more likely that the next government will be a coalition between Sinn Féin and at least a section of Fianna Fail.

The debate was characterised by a vitriolic broadside from the government side against Sinn Féin who were told they had lost their right to complain about Coveney by the cronyism of their own practices - that's true, and that's why a new coalition would make no impression on Ireland's pandemic of corruption.

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