Connect with us

Culture

Coveney denies he offered Zappone job months before Government approval

Voice Of EU

Published

on

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.

‘Cooling-off period’

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.

Source link

Culture

How the cost of renting an apartment in Copenhagen compares to other cities in Denmark

Voice Of EU

Published

on

With the arguable exception of second city Aarhus, Copenhagen is significantly more expensive to rent housing than anywhere else in Denmark.

But the extra cost in the capital depends on where else in Denmark you compare with, as well as the type of housing you rent.

Private or general housing?

First, it is important to note the difference between the two main types of rental housing in Denmark: private rentals and almene boliger (literally, ‘general housing’), a form of subsidised housing.

For almene boliger, local municipalities put up 10 percent of building costs and in return have the right to decide who is allocated one in four available apartments, enabling them to provide housing to municipal residents who need it. The housing therefore plays a role in the social housing provision.

This type of housing is normally managed by a boligforening or housing association. Rent goes towards costs of running the housing and to pay off the housing association’s loans, which means property owners aren’t profiting from rents and prices are controlled.

Aside from housing assigned by the municipality, almene boliger are open for anyone. However, to get one, you must get to the top of a waiting list, which you join by signing up with associations which operate housing in the city where you live (or want to live).

In Copenhagen or Aarhus, it can take years to get to the top of these lists, while in smaller cities you might get an offer in weeks or even days.

As such, many newcomers to Denmark must turn to the private rental market if they are living in one of the main cities.

READ ALSO: Deposits, complaints and registration: Five key things to know about renting in Denmark

Private housing: Copenhagen clearly pricier 

A study conducted by housing research centre Bolius in November 2020 found the cost of a 56 square-metre apartment in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district to be 8,536 kroner per month.

The study, which was based on data from 2019 and 2020 from rental platforms boliga.dk and boligportal.dk, shows the average monthly cost of non-limited private apartments on Nørrebro, compared with 16 other locations in Denmark.

The cost takes into account the cost of a deposit (normally three months’ rent) and adds it to the average cost of renting the housing for five years (thereby assuming none of the deposit is returned to the tenant).

In comparison to the price in Nørrebro, the study found rent in Hillerød north of Copenhagen to be slightly less (8,218 kroner) for a slightly larger apartment (65 square metres).

Moving further out from Copenhagen, costs begin to drop even more.

In Kalundborg on the west coast of Zealand, you can rent a 71-square-metre flat for 5,167 kroner per month. Næstved, a commuter town between Copenhagen and the Great Belt Bridge, comes in at 6,039 kroner for an apartment at 72 square metres.

The cheaper rents are consistent further to the west, exemplified in Jutland cities Aalborg (5,544 kroner for 62 square metres), Vejle (6.696 kroner for 84 square metres) and Esbjerg (4,399 kroner for 54 square metres).

Although Aarhus is not included in the study, third-largest city Odense is. Here, there is still a significant saving on Copenhagen, with 8,488 kroner, a similar rent to that in Nørrebro, getting you an apartment over 50 percent bigger at 82 square metres.

General (almene) housing: closer, but still higher in Greater Copenhagen

Rent prices for almene or subsidised housing were most recently analysed in a 2020 report by Landsbyggefonden (National Building Foundation), a support institution for the social housing sector.

According to that report, the rent for family housing (meaning housing not reserved for students or seniors) is “on average, approximately 100-200 kroner per square metre higher [per year, ed.] east of the Great Belt Bridge than west of it”.

Of the five administrative regions, average rent for family subsidised housing is highest in Greater Copenhagen at 906 kroner per square metre for a year’s rent.

The lowest rents can be found in South Denmark, where the yearly cost is 722 kroner per square metre.

Zealand is the region that comes closest to Copenhagen on the costs for this type of regular housing. Here, tenants can expect to pay 859 kroner per square metre in a year. The equivalent costs in Central Jutland and North Jutland and 778 kroner and 747 kroner respectively.

The study also places Greater Copenhagen as the most expensive region when rents are presented as the median monthly rent for family housing.

Here, the median values are split into five categories based on apartment size, with Copenhagen coming out as the most expensive region for each category.

For example, the median monthly rents for apartments between 50-60 square metres are as follows: 5,039 kroner (Greater Copenhagen); 4,913 kroner (Zealand); 4,541 kroner (Central Jutland); 4,388 kroner (North Jutland); 4,236 kroner (South Denmark). The national average is 4,667 kroner.

Sources: Domea, Bolius, Landsbyggefonden



Source link

Continue Reading

Culture

Officials pushed for State to buy direct provision centres from private firms

Voice Of EU

Published

on

The Government should buy a number of privately-owned direct provision centres as a “priority” as it would be more “cost effective” for the State to run the facilities for asylum seekers, international protection officials have said.

The savings arising from owning the accommodation centres rather than paying private contractors to do so “could be considerable”, departmental briefing documents provided to Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman last year state.

The vast majority of direct provision centres are currently owned and run by private companies, with accommodation providers having received some €1.6 billion since 1999, including €183 million last year.

The latest figures show some 7,150 people are in the system of seven State-owned sites and 39 private centres. A further 24 commercially-owned premises are being used to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.

The briefing document, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, says that housing people seeking asylum in State-owned centres would provide the “best protection from the vulnerability of present market reliance”.

“They are also much more cost efficient to run, and the State owns the asset,” it notes.

The document suggested that State centres should aim to accommodate 5,000 people, and “allowing the private sector to supply the rest is regarded as an achievable and reasonable target”.

The purchase of existing centres from private providers “to immediately boost the State’s footprint in this area should be considered as a priority,” the internal document said.

“Some service providers may be open to this and the market appears to be favourable at present,” it said.

The internal briefing suggested the department could then seek private companies or NGOs to run the centres, which would be a “competitive cost option”.

‘Badly needed’

Ongoing maintenance for centres owned by the State was also “badly needed,” as current pressures on the Office of Public Works (OPW) meant it was not possible “for immediate repairs to be done if required”.

“In exploring the model of more State centres, we need to agree and acquire a capital budget,” the briefing stated.

“State land does not require planning permission for new centres as the Minister has a power under the Acts, whereby the OPW can grant the planning permission and this is usually a three-month process. It is not subject to appeal.”

The document says that State centres “can also have a bigger footprint as it will be a permanent fixture in the locality”. In recent years a number of plans for private providers to open direct provision centres in regional towns have been met with protests from locals and anti-immigration activists.

Mr O’Gorman’s department has sought to reform the direct provision system and is seeking to replace the network of centres with a new system of accommodation and supports by the end of 2024.

New centres

A department spokesman confirmed the State has not bought any new centres since the briefing note was written. The spokesman said under the planned overhaul of direct provision, asylum-seekers who arrived into the country would initially be housed in a number of reception and integration centres.

Asylum-seekers will spend a maximum of four months in the reception centres before moving into housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies.

“These centres will be State-owned and purpose built to provide suitable accommodation for approximately 2,000 people at any one time, to cater for the flow-through of the 3,500 applicants over a 12-month period,” he said.


Source link

Continue Reading

Culture

IN PICTURES: French daredevil takes hair-raising Seine tightrope walk

Voice Of EU

Published

on

Attached by a strap to a safety lanyard, 27-year-old Nathan Paulin slowly progressed barefoot on a line stretched across the river between the Eiffel Tower and the Chaillot Theatre.

He stopped for a few breaks, sitting or lying on the rope.

Paulin holds an umbrella as he performs, for the second time, on a 70-metre-high slackline spanning 670 metres between the Eiffel Tower and the Theatre National de Chaillot. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

“It wasn’t easy walking 600 metres, concentrating, with everything around, the pressure … but it was still beautiful,” he said after the performance on Saturday.

He said obtaining the necessary authorisations had been a difficulty for him, plus “the stress linked to the audience, the fact that there are a lot of people”.

Photo: (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)

Paulin, holder of several world records, performed the feat to celebrate France’s annual Heritage Day – when people are invited to visit historic buildings and monuments that are usually closed to the public.

He said his motivation was “mainly to do something beautiful and to share it and also to bring a new perspective on heritage, it is to make heritage come alive”.

He had already crossed the River Seine on a tightrope, on Heritage Day in 2017.



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates 
directly on your inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!