FOREIGN Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has not spoken to Katherine Zappone nor sought to meet his former Cabinet colleague in New York this week, saying he has been “busy”.
r Coveney also defended Ms Zappone’s decision to decline to appear before the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee to answer questions over the Government’s botched attempt to make her a UN envoy for freedom of expression in July.
The Fine Gael minister was forced to apologise recently over his handling of the Zappone appointment which led to considerable political controversy for several weeks. The former children’s minister played a key role in securing Ireland’s position on the UN Security Council, but she has not been invited by the Government to participate in any of the events related to the UN General Assembly this week, despite residing in New York.
“No, I haven’t,” Mr Coveney told reporters outside Ireland’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York on Wednesday night. “And I’ve been busy this week and I’m sure, you know, Katherine Zappone makes her own decisions, I haven’t spoken to her this week.”
Mr Coveney confirmed that Ms Zappone has not contacted him, and he backed her decision to decline to appear before TDs and Senators as he did twice over the Dáil recess to answer questions about the affair.
“As the Taoiseach said Katherine Zappone is a private citizen now, she is living in New York,” he said.
“My view on this is the same as the Taoiseach’s – once somebody leaves public life they’re a private citizen and they make their own decisions, that’s the decision of Katherine Zappone.”
Meanwhile, Mr Coveney said his Department did not advise President Michael D Higgins on whether to attend a commemorative church service in Armagh next month to mark the centenary of partition and the foundation of Northern Ireland and to which Queen Elizabeth was also invited.
However, he was unable to say what exactly his department did say about the event which President Higgins has controversially declined to attend. He said there was a back and forth with his Department as “there often is” with the Áras and the President’s team.
“We gave a perspective on that, it wasn’t formal advice, I’ve said that before, the President made up his own mind on this,” he said.
When asked what the Department did advise, he said: “Well I don’t have all of the documents. The department outlined what the department viewed this event as being about, and then the President made up his own mind as to whether he wanted to attend or not. I am not going to give a whole load of detail on that that I don’t have in front of me.”
Mr Coveney said he had not been invited but if he or the Government is, he will give it “due consideration”.
The Foreign Affairs Minister departed New York on Wednesday on a train to Washington DC where he will meet with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and brief her and the Friends of Ireland congressional caucus on the latest Brexit developments.
Mr Coveney rejected claims from the UK side that President Joe Biden does not “fully appreciate” the row over the Northern Ireland protocol, saying it was “stretching credibility”.
“We will be talking through where the debates on the protocol are likely to go in the coming weeks and months but it’s to a very informed group of people who’ve taken a really close interest in this, including the President himself for a number of years now,” he said.
As part of Ireland’s work on the UN Security Council, Mr Coveney held a series of bilateral meetings with other foreign ministers in New York and said it had also been an opportunity to meet other senior UN officials. He said discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov centred on the situation in Syria and Afghanistan. Mr Coveney also held bilateral meetings with the governments of Kosovo, Algeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Separately, Mr Coveney said it would be “very difficult” to legislate against protests outside people’s homes following suggestions from the Social Democrats in the wake of a protest outside the home of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and his partner Dr Matt Barrett last weekend.
Speaking about the Government’s troubled bid to host the 2024 America’s Cup, which he has championed in recent months, Mr Coveney said it had sought more time to assess whether Ireland can host an event of this size and that will take “considerably more time”, possibly up to six months.