At the end of July the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney, announced to Cabinet that he was appointing former Independent TD and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone as ‘Special Envoy’ to the UN for Freedom of Expression and Opinion.
While this posting was well known within the leadership of Fine Gael, it was news to the Fianna Fail and Green members of Cabinet and was reportedly not discussed with the Taoiseach Micheál Martin prior to the cabinet meeting.
Very quickly – despite the Taoiseach urging us to ‘move on’ – the whiff of corruption was too strong for ordinary people to ignore.
Here was a former minister – who since losing her seat relocated to New York and was in the process of selling her former home in Dublin – brazenly lobbying a minister with whom she had served in the previous government, to create a new role for her so she could raise her profile in her home country. For a salary of around €15,000 annually. While this amount might seem modest to more affluent people, an extra 15k a year would be a life saver for struggling working people.
But of course it was not about the money for Ms Zappone: it was about the kudos: the esteem of swanning around New York as a UN Special Envoy, instead of being another cast-out establishment politician in a world full of cast-out politicians many of them more well-known than Ms Zappone.
The Jobstown Trials and Austerity: Zappone’s Real Legacy
For working class people in her former constituency of Dublin South West, especially in west Tallaght, the nature of her new position raised many eyebrows. Special Envoy for Freedom of Expression and Opinion. Really?
Was this the same person who testified in Court against the Jobstown protestors wrongly accused of false imprisonment for freely expressing their opinion about the austerity forced on the poorest people in the country?
Was this the same ‘feminist’ who voted against a motion to repeal the 8th amendment and turned a blind eye to the suffering of women whose children’s allowance and lone parent’s payments were savagely cut by her friends in Fine Gael and Labour?
Was she really going to be a special envoy for Freedom of Expression and Opinion?
But to be honest, ordinary people knew exactly what was going on: we’ve seen in all before. The working class are fully aware that there’s a layer of people – politicians, advisors, the tops of the Civil Service, the business caste with feet under the tables of various state and private boards – who have set themselves up as a class above us mere mortals, and who make sure that the rules and regulations that firmly imposed on us, do not apply to them.
‘Merriongate – Do As We Say; Not As We Do’
On the 27th of July, six days before the announcement of her appointment to the position she’d lobbied the minister to create for her, Ms Zappone held a social gathering in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin. It was attended by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and other high profile politicians like newly elected Labour TD Ivana Bacik. The government defended the gathering claiming there were only 50 people in attendance: that is fifty people at any given time. This was during a pandemic when people were not sure what was going to happen next. The surge of infections from the Delta Variant of Covid 19, despite the high numbers attending for vaccination, has thrown a shadow over our summer. Would pubs be reopened? Could we go away for holidays? Could we invite the neighbours in for a bar-be-cue? Could young people meet their friends for a drink in Dublin without being baton charged by the Public Order Unit?
Or more importantly for the people left in limbo since March 2020: could we invite loved ones to our wedding? Could we mourn our dead? Could we attend the birth of our children or comfort our spouses after still-births and miscarriages?
While NPHET did its best to advise people, the government muddied the waters whenever it suited them, until they were caught out. Then suddenly the Attorney General issued advice that yes Ms Zappone’s gathering was legal and within guidelines, because unbeknownst to everyone else in the country, you could have outdoor gatherings of up to 200 people.
Literally, with the stroke of a pen, all attempts to guide people safely through the pandemic by NPHET and others were undermined to save the government from embarrassment in what was a blatant slap in the face for the ordinary people of Ireland who have made so many sacrifices over the last seventeen months.
This should not and cannot be forgotten. In a litany of scandals since the foundation of the State, this one has sharply exposed the absolute disregard the ruling class have for the ordinary people. They set themselves above us, protected by the instruments of the State, forgetting that their power derives from the people.
There is no quick fix for this. We will not be moving on. Reforms and empty promises nor calls for Leo Varadkar or the Government to resign are not enough. The whole capitalist system is rotten and needs to go and the people with the power to change things – really change things – are the organised working class.
Only we can tear the whole edifice down and build a new socialist society that is truly democratic, ruled by the majority not the corrupt minority.