Coveney’s officials queried whether appointing former minister to UN role would impact on pension entitlements

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney’s officials queried whether appointing a former minister to a UN envoy role would impact on their pension entitlements.

he Department of Public Expenditure initially said there was no contact from the Department of Foreign Affairs about the botched appointment of Katherine Zappone as a special envoy for freedom of expression and opinion.

However, in a new statement, Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath’s spokesperson said: “Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs contacted counterparts from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in advance of the cabinet meeting in relation to a query on the pensions impact of appointing a former Minister to a UN envoy role.

“The query was not specific to a particular person. The request was withdrawn before the query was assessed,” she added.

At a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, Mr Coveney said the Department of Public Expenditure had to approve the salary for Ms Zappone’s role and said there is “correspondence” on the issue.

“Does the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform need to approve it?” he said at the committee.

“Yes, it does. It needs to approve any expenditure. I understand there was some correspondence on that and I presume that will come out under the FoI [Freedom of Information] process.”

However, a Department of Public Expenditure spokesperson initially said night there was “no contact” from the Department of Foreign Affairs about the envoy position.

In response, Mr Coveney’s spokesperson said the “minister has no involvement in terms and conditions of a salary of €13,000 to €15,000 being approved for a special envoy position”.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs consulted the Department of Public Expenditure on contract matters, as would be normal. The minister was not party to this,” he added.

Sinn Féin TD John Brady said he would be “very surprised” if the Department of Public Expenditure was not contacted, and insisted further clarity is needed.

It comes after Mr Coveney was forced to issue a statement to the Foreign Affairs Committee after concerns were raised about inconsistencies in statements he made.

In a letter to committee chairman Charlie Flanagan, he insisted there were no inconsistencies in his contributions, but did not address several matters that were of concern to the committee.

Mr Coveney did reveal his phone was used to send messages to EU foreign ministers after it was “compromised” last year and said this is why he had to delete messages linked to the long-running special envoy saga.

The minister told the committee he deleted the messages because his phone did not have enough data storage space.

While not addressing this inconsistency in his testimony, Mr Coveney said in his letter to the committee: “It is already publicly known that my phone was compromised in 2020.

“I believe the matter was dealt with swiftly and thoroughly by my department and the gardaí, from whom I take ongoing advice.”

Mr Coveney will appear before the committee again on Tuesday to address more questions on his handling of the fiasco.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was forced yesterday to issue an apology after it emerged journalists who sought text messages relating to the controversy under FoI were told they did not exist.

This emerged after Mr Varadkar released his text exchanges with Mr Coveney and Ms Zappone regarding the affair.

The Tánaiste said he was on holiday when the requests arrived and his officials did not contact him about his phone records.

Separately, Mr Varadkar said Ms Zappone asking him about the status of a potential taxpayer-funded job should not be considered lobbying.

Meanwhile, Micheál Martin launched an extraordinary defence of his Fine Gael ministers at the launch of his Housing for All plan.

The Taoiseach dismissed criticism of the long-running affair, which resulted in Ms Zappone not taking up the job, as “melodrama and over-dramatic”.

He also produced a speech he gave more than a year ago after he sacked former agriculture minister Barry Cowen to defend his position on the Zappone affair.

The Taoiseach was responding to questions about Mr Cowen’s interview on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland in which he drew comparisons between his treatment and the support the Fianna Fáil leader has shown his Fine Gael ministers.

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