The Tánaiste, Fine Gael leader and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has said the ongoing controversy surrounding the appointment of Katherine Zappone to a UN special envoy role is, in part, due to the way it was handled.

Leo Varadkar said this has led to the Sinn Féin vote of no-confidence in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

Mr Varadkar said members of the parliamentary party, and party activists, are disappointed that Fine Gael "hasn't been at its best, its most competent and sharpest in the past couple of weeks and months".

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland ahead of his party’s think-in, he said he felt the gathering was "going to be a good one" and it is the first time since July 2019 that members have been able to gather together and regroup and reset.

"We will come out of here united."

The Tánaiste said he and Mr Coveney had a responsibility to flag the Zappone appointment to the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, and he has apologised to him for the handling of the affair.

He said a coalition should be based on two principles - good faith and no surprises.

Mr Varadkar said there is good faith among the three parties but he should have seen the potential political sensitivities in the appointment of Katherine Zappone.

The Minister said he has been involved in three coalitions and knows something about making them work.

Leo Varadkar said there needs to be a review and refresh of the Freedom of Information Act, in the aftermath of the appointment.

The FOI act was refreshed in 2015, he said, but not adequately refreshed.


Read more:
Tánaiste denies Zappone got envoy job due to 'cronyism'
'Mistakes were made' over Zappone appointment - Coveney


Meanwhile, the Minister for Finance has said he spoke to Ms Zappone last week, before he issued a statement to inform her he would be issuing the statement.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, the Minister said "it was a very short conversation" and it did not go any further than that.

"At no point did Katharine Zappone lobby me in relation to this role," he said.

The Minister said he imagines Katharine Zappone is aware of the calls to make a statement, "but that's a matter for her as regards if she wants to intervene or say anything about what has gone on".

He said the conversation he had with Ms Zappone, which was referenced in the 4 March text with Minister Coveney "was a brief one" and "was more about the possibility of a role and it didn't go any further than that and everything that Simon Coveney has said about this process and the answers he has given in the Oireachtas Committee on it, I entirely concur with".

Mr Donohoe said he had two conversations with Katharine Zappone on the issue of the job, and they "are the ones that are referenced in the text message and at no point did she lobby me in relation to this role".

He said she did not text him about the role, they had phone conversations and that was it.

"Simon and myself and the Tánaiste, have acknowledged this shouldn't have happened, we handled it wrong, we apologised," Mr Donohoe said.

'Experience matters in politics' - Varadkar

He said he did not believe Fine Gael had been too long in power and that "experience matters in politics".

He added that he would not like to see the country run by people who have "never done a budget, never brought legislation through the Dáil and Seanad".

Mr Varadkar said Fine Gael offers a mix of youth and experience, adding that "I used to be the youth, now I'm the experience".

He said that the economy is "actually ahead of where we thought we would be".

"We're actually ahead of where we thought we would be at this point in the economic cycle."

He said that because there is a growing economy there are more resources.

Mr Varadkar also said that the implementation of Sláintecare is "off track".

"It is off track, but it's off track for a very good reason - we had a pandemic".

He said that the Department and the HSE has done a "fabulous job" over the past year or two in terms of delivering other health reforms, including increasing the number of hospital beds and recruiting new staff, but he said that now is the time to focus on the Sláintecare programme.

"Yes, now we need to get it back on track, absolutely."

The Tánaiste also said that the scaling back of mass Covid-19 testing "does make sense to me".

When asked if he knew when it would begin to be scaled back, Mr Varadkar said:

"I'm afraid I can't. I have seen the reports, but I haven't actually received the advice from NPHET on this, but speaking as a doctor it does make sense to me. Because of the vaccine programme, Covid is now a virus that we can live with."

In relation to the photograph that circulated online of him attending the Mighty Hoopla festival, Mr Varakdar said:

"Well look, it wasn't a very flattering photograph. If the shoe was on the other foot, It is not a photo that I would have posted of someone else. I have never done anything like that, but I am a public figure and to a certain extent it goes with the territory and if you are out and about in public people will take photographs of you and that's the way it is and I accept that."

He added that he has been "one of the strongest supporters around the cabinet table" of proposals to reopen the entertainment sector in Ireland.

The debacle will not deter him from leading the party into the next election, he insisted. "Absolutely, I am looking to it."

The Fine Gael parliamentary party is gathering in Trim, Co Meath, for a two-day meeting ahead of the Dáil returning later this week.