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Risky move Varadkar sparks fresh row as he claims Taoiseach's office knew about Zappone job offer

Mr Varadkar risked causing divisions between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ahead of the vote by announcing that the Taoiseach's Office was told about the appointment a day before the Cabinet meeting.

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Tanaiste Leo Varadkar arrives at the Fine Gael party think-in event (Niall Carson/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar arrives at the Fine Gael party think-in event (Niall Carson/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar arrives at the Fine Gael party think-in event (Niall Carson/PA)

TÁNAISTE Leo Varadkar has sparked a fresh row with Taoiseach Micheál Martin over the Katherine Zappone affair just days before a no-confidence motion in Foreign Affairs ­Minister Simon Coveney.

Mr Varadkar risked causing divisions between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ahead of the vote by announcing that the Taoiseach's Office was told about the appointment a day before the Cabinet meeting.

The Tánaiste also dragged the Department of the Taoiseach secretary-general Martin Fraser into the ongoing controversy over the botched appointment of Ms Zappone as a special envoy.

Speaking at the Fine Gael think-in at the Trim Castle Hotel, Co Meath, Mr Varadkar said Mr Fraser was told about the appointment by the Department of Foreign Affairs secretary general the day before the Cabinet meeting which cleared the move.

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Fine Gael Leader Leo Varadkar at the party “Think in” at the Trim Castle Hotel in Co Meath (Niall Carson/PA)

Fine Gael Leader Leo Varadkar at the party “Think in” at the Trim Castle Hotel in Co Meath (Niall Carson/PA)

Fine Gael Leader Leo Varadkar at the party “Think in” at the Trim Castle Hotel in Co Meath (Niall Carson/PA)

The Tánaiste's intervention followed Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath contradicting comments about the long-running saga made by Mr Varadkar on RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland.

Mr McGrath said it was "not the case" that Ms Zappone's name was in the Cabinet memo and called the debacle a "sorry affair".

The Taoiseach was then forced to issue a statement clarifying his position on the appointment which was made in the last week of July.

Mr Martin's spokesperson said the first time the Taoiseach became aware of the nomination was at the Cabinet meeting, once the memo was distributed.

There was concern among Fine Gael TDs at the gathering over Mr Varadkar's decision to stoke tensions with their ­Coalition partners. "This is not the week to start picking fights with Fianna Fáil," one senior Fine Gael source said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Mr Coveney has said he "looks in the mirror" and "does not recognise" the image of him portrayed by the opposition and media.

Speaking at the Fine Gael think-in, Mr Coveney apologised for his handling of the Zappone appointment as a special envoy and said he should have acted faster when the controversy erupted during the summer.

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He accepted responsibility for the ongoing fiasco but said he did not think portrayals of his actions had been fair.

Most contributors at the meeting praised Mr Coveney and sources insisted he has the party's "full confidence".

Mr Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe also apologised for the Zappone affair which has culminated in a no-confidence motion in Mr Coveney tomorrow.

Sources at the think-in said there was very little criticism of the party leadership over the appointment because the leaders issued contrite apologies at the start of the meeting.

There was some backlash over an unnamed junior minister setting up a sting operation to establish if a Cabinet minister was leaked details of the appointment.

Referring to that incident, Carlow-Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan ended his contribution by saying there should be "no more sting operations" among Fine Gael colleagues.

A number of TDs complained about leaks from the party, including Michael Creed, Josepha Madigan, Joe Carey and Frank Feighan.

There was also criticism of how the party has been managed over the last year.

The meeting also heard complaints about a lack of communication between ministers and party members, especially when they are making representations on behalf of constituents.

Clare TD Mr Carey said the party should focus on investing in the regions and particularly highlighted the need for more investment in Shannon Airport.

Mayo senator Paddy Burke raised concerns about legislation not being discussed by the parliamentary party before it is brought before the Seanad and Dáil.

Meanwhile, former Taoiseach John Bruton set out his vision for how the party can grow support.

The meeting lasted a number of hours and there were several comments about "resetting" the party.

The party will meet again today ahead of the Dáil returning after the summer recess tomorrow.

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