Former Minister getting plum diplomatic gig inflames leadership issues in two main government parties.
By Conor Lenihan.
The appointment of Katherine Zappone as an Irish diplomatic envoy has already let loose a lot of free speech – not all of it complimentary.
The question is: at a very challenging time for the state do we need another diplomat based in New York?
Ireland already has a very expensive office in downtown Manhattan and a Consul General to the UN.
In my time in the department of Foreign Affairs there was no great clamour to spend more money at the UN.
It is the ‘insider dealing’ aspect of it that sticks in people’s craws. But even worse than cronyism is the wilful waste of public money, even on a small scale.
The diplomatic pomposity and arrogance of this appointment is breathtaking. The gesture itself suggests a minister who has spent too much time on the Embassy cocktail circuit.
Moreover, despite the prophecies of doom there is no great threat to freedom of speech on the global horizon.
If anything our digital, fast-moving, media world has a surplus of free speech.
Whether intended or not, the envoy appointment looks like an excuse to junket for the appointee.
There is no end to the amount of important conferences that could be attended on the theme of free speech.
Some cynics are already insinuating that Simon Coveney made the appointment to brush up his credentials with the Pride constituency.
That in itself is fairly ironic given Coveney’s rather blatant hyping of his “family values” when contesting the Fine Gael leadership a few short years ago.
More dangerous to a party used to ironies is the fact that the cabinet minister responsible for leaking the story has already been identified as a prominent rival of Coveney for the job of leader of Fine Gael.
The minister who leaked is unlikely to be punished for the simple reason that his boss Leo Varadkar is under Garda investigation for one of his own controversial leaks.
There are at least two Fine Gael cabinet colleagues of Varadkar who are staking him out – the two Simons, Harris and Coveney.
Meanwhile Micheál Martin is hanging on as leader of Fianna Fáil by his fingertips.
If it were it not for the pandemic there would already be blood on the carpet. The horrible thought has occurred to some in Fianna Fáil that the party of ironies may again steal its thunder – by replacing its leader before Fianna Fáil does.
The real indignity for Martin is that, in breach of longstanding practice, Coveney didn’t even bother to tell him in advance of the Zappone stratagem.
Almost every week Martin is further humiliated by Varadkar’s drive-by commentary on yet to be announced cabinet decisions.
As veteran Kilkenny commentator Jimmy Rhatigan indelicately put it if Varadkar goes to the toilet these days Micheál Martin is there to flush it.
Fianna Fáil deputies and activists routinely tell me these days that Fine Gael is running rings around them in office.
When the party meets for its inquest in September into its spectacular low showing in a Dublin by election they will have a lot to ponder.
What is delaying things in Fianna Fail?
Arguably FF has a much greater need to freshen up its leadership given its poor showing in the public polls.
Observers point to the baleful influence of the so-called “payroll vote”.
Despite the reduction of FF seats in the last election more than half of them are now in jobs of one kind or another – Committee Chairs, Ministers, or Ministers of State.
In this rather perverse application of the “house always wins” principle nobody gets to change, let alone change the leadership.
However, younger deputies may need to be reminded of the party’s history where TDs feeling blocked from possible promotion chose to push both Lynch and Haughey off the stage.
Few are blaming the strangely quiescent Zappone for wanting the bauble offered by Varadkar and Coveney but this silent diplomat may have triggered more than she expected when she sought preferment.
Conor Lenihan is a former Minister for Science, Technology & Innovation. His forthcoming biography of Albert Reynolds Reynolds ‘Risktaker for Peace’ is to be published by the Merrion Press in September