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sock it to me 'Champagne party' team spent €4,500 on novelty socks in bid to win UN Security Council seat

Some of the socks were sent to New York in a diplomatic bag

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A photo taken by former secretary general Niall Burgess of the champagne party at the Department of Foreign Affairs in June 2020.

A photo taken by former secretary general Niall Burgess of the champagne party at the Department of Foreign Affairs in June 2020.

The promotional socks commissioned for Ireland's UN Security Council bid

The promotional socks commissioned for Ireland's UN Security Council bid

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A photo taken by former secretary general Niall Burgess of the champagne party at the Department of Foreign Affairs in June 2020.

The Department of Foreign Affairs team behind the controversial champagne lockdown celebration spent more than €4,500 on customised socks in their bid to win Ireland’s seat on the UN Security Council.

And some of the socks were couriered to New York in a diplomatic bag, newly released documents reveal.

A diplomatic bag is a pouch with special status under international law, which is typically used to transport important documents or articles between the state and its embassies abroad.

The same method of transport was used by the campaign team to send 22 empty gift bags to its UN mission in New York in November 2018. The bags had earlier been delivered to Iveagh House from a supplier based in New York.

The socks and branded gift bags were among the promotional merchandise ordered by the campaign team at a cost of more than €125,000 prior to Ireland’s election to the UN Security Council in June 2020.

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The promotional socks commissioned for Ireland's UN Security Council bid

The promotional socks commissioned for Ireland's UN Security Council bid

The promotional socks commissioned for Ireland's UN Security Council bid

A picture of Department of Foreign Affairs Officials celebrating Ireland’s election to the Security Council in Iveagh House sparked outrage and was found by an internal review to have seriously breached Covid-19 guidelines in place at the time.

Several senior officials, including former department secretary general Niall Burgess, apologised and made donations to charity after the gathering came to light.

The spending on promotional items for the Security Council campaign included €8,281 on 650 keep cups, €6,113 on 700 personalised power banks, €5,650 for 200 wooden pens, €7,000 on lapel pins, €2,894 on umbrellas, €612 on pub glasses, and €727 on printed materials that included a “selfie cut-out”.

Nearly €35,000 was spent on custom-made notebooks without a tendering process, as required under government public procurement guidelines. The records also contain no evidence of compliance with procurement rules in relation the rest of the spending with the exception of one small purchase of gift bags in Geneva.

Records released under freedom of information laws show that staff had to be asked to refrain from taking campaign merchandise because stocks were running low in November 2018 – 18 months before the UNSC election.

The civil servant who placed orders for the majority of the promotional items was among those pictured celebrating with alcohol at Iveagh House in breach of public health guidelines during a national lockdown in June 2020. They were not working at the time of the celebration.

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The spending was described as “farcical” by senator and member of the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee, Gerard Craughwell, who said the revelation had accentuated the image of the department’s civil servants as a detached elite following the Iveagh House controversy earlier this year.

“The practice of using international rock stars, corporate gifts of umbrellas and socks – God help us – must stop. It is an insult to the suffering people who look to the UN to protect and care for them,” he said.

“The only people who benefit from this happy-clappy party that is the obscenity of the UNSC election are the already well-heeled diplomats who live privileged lives.”

Mr Craughwell also criticised the use of diplomatic bags to transport socks and gift bags around the world. These packages are afforded special protection under the 1961 Vienna Convention, and those accompanying them enjoy diplomatic immunity.

“It is really quite laughable to think of the diplomatic bag being used to send socks or similar items to New York for any reason. Diplomatic bags have a very important role to play in the world and this must not be abused,” he said, adding that a review of their use by the department was required.

Mr Craughwell also expressed concern over the apparent failure to respect public procurement rules, and said he would be asking the Public Accounts Committee to examine all expenditure incurred as part of the UNSC campaign.

A spokeswoman did not address specific instances in which it appears that tendering rules were not followed, but said: “The Department of Foreign Affairs adheres to public procurement rules.

“In some cases, the department uses suppliers nominated under government-wide frameworks which are run under open tendering and in line with procurement rules. In other cases, suppliers are selected on the basis of competition quotations.”

Asked whether the transportation of socks and giftbags to New York constituted an appropriate use of diplomatic bags, the spokeswoman said this was “part of the normal work of the department”.

She did not comment when asked whether the use of over €4,500 on customised socks represented good value for money or whether these had played an important role in Ireland’s successful campaign.

The department has previously said that Ireland’s UNSC campaign cost a total of €859,000, which included a €8,423 Tokyo hotel bill, €250,000 in flight costs, €98,000 on accommodation and meals, and €100,766 spent on a promotional video.

The department’s spend on campaign merchandise also included €1,332 on UNSC-branded pencils, €190 on six bog oak pens, €733 on 10,000 bookmarks, and €533 on 300 yards of ribbon with Ireland’s campaign logo on it.

The customised socks were originally ordered in February 2019, when a civil servant emailed the supplier to say “We in the Department are big fans of your socks!”

In August, she reverted to the company, reporting: “They have been a big success, and a reorder may be required.”

A total of 950 pairs of the socks were purchased in various sizes at a cost of €4,545.

In March 2019, after the first two of three invoices from the sock supplier valued at €2,952 had been received, the civil servant emailed a colleague to ask that the cost be split between two different cost centres.

The same official shared a photograph of herself wearing the socks on social media when she was relocating to New York as part of the UN mission in October 2020, writing: “Had to don the #IrelandUNSC socks for the occasion!”

The €125,000 spend also included over €2,000 on “survival bags” for election officers, which comprised a gift bag containing pencils “to mark your ballot”, mints “before you go into a meeting”, a shoe bag for “when your feet hurt”, and chocolate “for the 5pm sugar rush”.

The campaign team encountered problems with lapel pins purchased in July 2019, which they said were “spinning a lot” and turning upside down. Regardless, they ordered 2,500 more of the items, brining the total spend on the pins to €7,005.

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