Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has apologised for “sloppiness” and for making mistakes in the past few weeks in explaining the circumstances around the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a special envoy.
Mr Coveney is making a second appearance before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs within a week after inconsistencies emerged in the account he gave last Tuesday of the process leading up to her appointment on July 27th.
However, the Minister has insisted Ms Zappone never asked him for a job at any stage, and he said he never made her a firm offer last March – some four months before the official offer was made to her.
A text from Ms Zappone sent in early March thanked Mr Coveney enthusiastically in relation to a special envoy role.
However, Mr Coveney denied strongly that it was anything that amounted to an offer.
In his opening statement to the committee, he said that the Department of Foreign Affairs at that stage was interested in exploring the concept of the role. He said he told her that in a phone call on March 3rd.
“It triggered a text to me the following day enthusiastically thanking me.
“It was not a job offer at that stage. As I made clear the concept had to be developed, and that has been made clear from the documentation that has been released,” he said.
“I should have been clearer with Katherine Zappone on the extent of the work needed before a formal role would be offered to her. I did not speak again to her until July 19th despite the fact she was looking for updates.”
Mr Coveney apologised to the committee for “creating the circumstances of a second hearing in a week.
“It was due to the sloppiness of some of my answers to some of your legitimate questions last week.”
Mr Coveney said he had made mistakes in recent weeks in terms of convincingly explaining how the job came about.
“It has led to political embarrassment for the Government.”
Statements to the committee
Sinn Féin spokesman on foreign affairs John Brady accused Mr Coveney of attempting to “deliberately mislead the committee”.
Mr Brady claimed Ms Zappone had lobbied Ministers and Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ireland’s ambassador to the United Nations, looking for the role.
He portrayed the events of the past week as as “a scramble for cover by you and other Ministers, deleting messages and making misleading statements like you did last week”.
Mr Brady said Mr Coveney and Minister for Finance Pascal Donohoe knew “exactly what was going on” at least four months before. He said Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was aware at least 11 days before the Government decision on July 27th.
Mr Brady asked Mr Coveney about his contacts with Mr Donohoe.
The Minister replied he had an informal conversation with Mr Donohoe in late January or early February who said Ms Zappone might get in contact with him “in view of taking advice about getting work in the United Nations”.
Mr Coveney denied any inference that he instructed his department to create a role for Ms Zappone.
“I worked with the secretary general. We saw the possibility of developing a special envoy role . . . we saw it as an opportunity. We saw Katherine Zappone as an experienced person who was suitable for that role.”
Earlier, Mr Coveney said Ms Zappone had texted him for advice on working with US Aid on LGBTI issues and whether he could make an introduction for her.
“The idea of Katherine Zappone playing a role for Ireland came about from a short conversation I had with the secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs Niall Burgess [on February 24th] when I asked would she be of use. I had not spoken to her at that stage. The secretary general responded positively.
“I told her of the conversation on a phone call on February 26th and agreed to come back when [Mr Burgess] had any update. [He] came back a few days later to say US president Joe Biden would be appointing a special envoy [for LGBTI issues] and was interested in the department exploring the benefits of such a role.
“In that context I raised the issue of a special envoy with Katherine Zappone and said would she be interested [in the phone call on March 3rd].
Mr Coveney said that triggered a text the following day enthusiastically thanking him – which he again insisted was not a job offer.
Mr Burgess also told the committee that he was interested in developing a special envoy role for LGBT rights when it was mentioned to him, as several other countries including the US had done so.
Deleted texts, FOI, lobbying
Social Democrats TD Garry Gannon said there were two clear instances where Mr Coveney had failed to dissuade Ms Zappone from her belief she had been offered a role.
The first was his failure to tell her when she texted on March 4th thanking him for the offer. The second was when she texted him on May 3rd saying Mr Coveney had mentioned June as a start date.
How could she have believed a start date of June 3rd when no offer had been made, asked Mr Gannon.
Mr Coveney said “with the benefit of hindsight” it would have been helpful for him to have clarified that with her.
He said the June date had come about from their conversation in February when she informed him that she had commitments with another UN agency until the middle of June.
Mr Gannon asked Mr Coveney if he should reflect on his view that Ms Zappone had not lobbied for the job.
“That is my view. I never felt pressure. If I had I would have been responding back to her,” replied Mr Coveney.
Mr Gannon said her request to get an introduction to former US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, also appeared to be lobbying.
“Why does that not appear in the lobbying register? There was an obligation on both you and Paschal Donohoe to register.”
Mr Coveney said he did not accept that interpretation of events. “Paschal Donohoe and Katherine Zappone are friends. They spoke last year. She asked for advice. He suggested that she contact me.”
Mr Gannon intervened. “So that’s not lobbying? Friends of Ministers don’t come under the same category [as others]?”
Mr Gannon also said Mr Coveney’s deleting of texts was in breach of the Freedom of Information Act. He asked Mr Coveney when he deleted the texts of his conversation with the Tánaiste between July 16th and 19th. Mr Coveney said he deleted them shortly after the conversation.
He confirmed they were deleted before any Freedom of Information request was made.
“There is a security element to that. It is an issue for me. As a matter for course, when I don’t think it necessary to have text messages on my phone because something is concluded and moving on, I delete them,” he said.
Mr Coveney said if he was trying to hide the existence of text messages he would not have made them all available to a FOI request . . . I did not delete texts in an effort to hide anything,” he insisted.
Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said there was a one-year “cooling-off” period for Ministers after they resign when they are not allowed to engage in discussions on working with the UN or any public bodies with which they interacted as Ministers.
Census 2022 – what difference does it make?
Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.
But what it is it all about?
At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.
The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.
The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.
Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.
Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.
And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.
Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture
Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”
The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.
At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.
During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.
When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”
He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”
“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.
During the commercial break, Will Smith is pulled aside and comforted by Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry, who motion for him to brush it off. Will appears to wipe tears from his eyes as he sits back down with Jada, with Denzel comforting Jada and Will’s rep by his side. pic.twitter.com/uDGVnWrSS2
— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) March 28, 2022
The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”
On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.
House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022
House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.
Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.
The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.
Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.
This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.
MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.
It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.
“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.
“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.
“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.
“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.
He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.
Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.
Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.
The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.
“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”
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