Caught Wed Handed | 

Groom fined for marquee party furious as champagne Covid officials celebrated

James Reilly was convicted and fined €250 over the party, while six of the champagne party officials have since received promotions
James Reilly was fined over the party in March last year

James Reilly was fined over the party in March last year

Patrick O'Connell

A groom who organised a wedding celebration during Covid lockdown has said it is unfair he has been convicted while officials who organised a 'Champagne party' in the Department of Foreign Affairs got away scot-free.

James Reilly of Strawhall, Athy Road, Co Carlow, was convicted and fined €250 over the party, held in a ­marquee a day after his wedding - while six of the officials who attended the celebration in Simon Coveney's Department of Foreign Affairs have since received promotions.

Asked whether he thought, by comparison, his treatment could be considered unfair, Reilly told the Sunday World: "Of course it is.

"Obviously, I didn't like being in the paper over a celebration the day after my own wedding, but what can you do about it?"

Reilly faced a single charge of organising a recreational event without taking steps to ensure those attending were of the same household - in contravention of temporary Covid restrictions under the Health Act, 1947.

Inspector Alan Kissane told Carlow District Court how ­gardaí attended 2 Strawhall, Athy Road, Co Carlow, on March 26, 2021 at 9pm.

He said 50 people were in a marquee for a wedding reception with music playing.

Insp Kissane told the court that officers spoke to the 26-year-old defendant who said he had organised the event.

Reilly, the court also heard, had been co-operative with the gardaí.

A fixed-charge penalty notice was issued but was not paid.

Groom James Reilly talking to the Sunday World

Groom James Reilly talking to the Sunday World

Solicitor for Reilly, Brendan O'Flaherty, told the court that the defendant's brother and mother had already been fined for organising the event and asked: "When does it stop with prosecutions?"

Mr O'Flaherty also submitted that his client hadn't been involved with the celebration other than being the groom.

Judge Geraldine Carthy ­responded: "Did he object to it? Did he say 'stop, you are breaching Covid regulations that are in place?'"

Mr O'Flaherty said he had not but was seeking some ­sympathy considering his client was newly married.

A fine of €250 was imposed.

James Reilly's wedding celebration took place at a time when the country was under Level 5 restrictions, which permitted a maximum of six guests to attend a wedding and banned organised outdoor gatherings.

By comparison, the now ­infamous photograph of up to 20 Department of Foreign Affairs officials enjoying a Champagne celebration inside the department was taken on June 17, 2020. Again, the country was in the midst of a strict lockdown in response to a surge in Covid-19 infections at the time of this party.

People were confined to their own counties, and indoor ­gatherings of more than seven people were prohibited.

But gardaí have said no investigation is being carried out in relation to this gathering.

A Garda spokesman said: "The Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 were the applicable ­regulations. An Garda Síochána is not investigating any complaint as described."

Yesterday Minister Simon Coveney ordered an investigation into the Champagne party.

He instructed his secretary general Joe Hackett to compile a report on the controversy sparked by a photograph of civil servants celebrating Ireland winning a seat on the UN Security Council.

"On January 13, he asked his current secretary-general to report on the impromptu gathering in the department in June 2020 and has asked for that report by the end of the month," his spokesperson said.

News of the inquiry comes after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said further investigation into the Champagne party in the Department of Foreign Affairs is required.

Also, it emerged this week that of the 13 officials who could be identified from the photograph posted on social media by then-secretary general Niall Burgess, six have since been promoted - representing almost one-third of the 20 attendees.

They include Mr Burgess himself, and then-deputy secretary general Brendan Rogers, who were last year appointed ambassadors to France and the Netherlands, respectively.

The two senior civil servants retained their existing ­salaries when they assumed their new roles, making them two of ­Ireland's highest-paid ­ambassadors, on salaries of around €213,000 and €185,000.

The majority of the country's ambassadors are paid between €90,702 and €112,191 per annum, on a pay scale linked to the civil service grade of principal officer.

Others who featured in the photograph taken during the celebration at Iveagh House include an official who was third secretary in the department at the time on a salary scale starting at around €33,000.

Niall Burgess taking selfie of champagne gathering at the department

Niall Burgess taking selfie of champagne gathering at the department

She was promoted to ­second secretary around two months after the event and was ­promoted again to first ­secretary last August on a pay scale ranging from €69,709 to €86,865.

Another person who ­attended the party to celebrate ­Ireland's election to the UN Security Council then held the ­position of deputy director at the ­department but was ­promoted to first secretary in October 2020.

In August 2020, another deputy director in the photograph was appointed to a prestigious position on Ireland's Permanent Mission to the UN in New York.

Mr Burgess's then-private secretary was appointed as deputy head of mission in Singapore last year.

Minister Coveney avoided answering questions in relation to the Iveagh House controversy last week, saying he had "nothing further to add" to an earlier statement in which he said the ­gathering "should not have happened".

After initially refusing to comment on the matter, he confirmed last week that he had been in Iveagh House on June 17, 2020 and met with the UN campaign staff for 10 minutes but insisted that "at no point during that day did [he] attend a Champagne celebration."

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