The crass entitlement surrounding the recent ‘Merriongate’ controversy was totally unworthy of Katherine Zappone and everyone involved at Government level, according to Fergus Finlay.
On The Hard Shoulder this evening, he said he found it hard to write the column as he has known Ms Zappone for a long time and worked closely with her on the marriage equality referendum.
“I just found the whole thing really, really disillusioning and terribly disappointing and when you sit down to write about something you have to kind of tell the truth as you see it, so that’s what I did,” he said.
“I thought the air of entitlement that emanated from Katherine over the whole thing was just totally unworthy of her and the incompetence that surrounded it and the crassness that surrounded it from a government perspective reflected very badly on everyone involved.”
He said there were three main issues with the saga – her appointment to an unadvertised special envoy role, the event at the Merrion Hotel celebrating her appointment and the Government’s decision to publish the Attorney General’s advice suggesting the event was not in breach of COVID-19 guidelines.
Mr Finlay said it is hard to see why Ireland would need a “special envoy on freedom of opinion and expression” to the UN.
“I don’t know where that came from and I can only conclude that it came from Katherine Zappone lobbying for it and putting it about that she would be interested in it and almost as it were designing it,” he said.
“The truth is that we have a highly professional and dedicated team that works at the UN. They have carried the human rights torch at the UN for as long as I can remember.
“I attended the UN myself in the 1990s and human rights was a big thing on the Irish agenda then and it has always been.
“So, the work that an envoy was supposed to do has been done and has been done highly professionally and in a highly committed way for an awful long time.”
He noted that Ms Zappone’s position would be a lot stronger if the position had been advertised.
“Her position would be undisputable and there wouldn’t have been any row,” he said.
“I mean, I could rattle off the names of existing and former Irish diplomats and others with acres and acres of global and European experience - some of them retired and living in the States and therefor available at much less cost - who would have been worthy of consideration so I don’t know what there was to worry about in the context of competition.”
“A business card that said ‘Ireland’s representative’ is a valuable thing to have in a place like New York,” he said. “Especially for somebody who wouldn’t be a household name in the city – it would open a lot of doors.”
Mr Finlay said it is impossible to know whether all the COVID guidelines were followed at the Merrion Hotel event which was attended by the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
He noted that the fact it was outdoors with 50 guests does not automatically mean it was in line with the regulations.
“There are other rules that had to be brought into play and I think most of us would find it very hard to accept that all those rules were observed on the day,” he said.
The Attorney General
He said one of the aspects of the affair that worried him the most was the Government readiness to publish the Attorney General’s advice
“The rule has always been that the AGs advice is confidential to the Government and the Government on this occasion chose to publish it immediately,” he said. “Without being asked they chose to publish it and they chose to publish it, presumably, to spare the Tánaiste’s blushes.”
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