prohibited | 

Department of Foreign Affairs threw champagne party during last year's lockdown

At least 20 senior officials and staff from the DFA threw a party at Iveagh House in breach of public health guidelines
DFA Tweet

DFA Tweet

Darragh Mc Donagh

At least 20 senior officials and staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs threw a champagne party at Iveagh House in breach of public health guidelines during a strict national lockdown last year.

A photograph from the event shows the group huddled closely together in an office at the department’s headquarters, drinking bottles of Moët & Chandon without face coverings or regard for physical distancing.

The party took place after Ireland was elected to the UN Security Council on June 17, 2020.

The department has blamed “a moment of happiness” for the incident and insisted that “lessons have been learned”.

The country was in the midst of a strict lockdown in response to a surge in Covid-19 infections at the time of the party. People were confined to their own counties, and indoor gatherings of more than seven people were prohibited.

People were also asked to work from home where possible, and many were unable to attend the funerals of loved ones due to a limit of 25 on the number of people who could attend a service.

The Government had also published a protocol for returning to work, which emphasised the need to maintain physical distancing and avoid face-to-face contact in the workplace.

The Iveagh House party has been compared to the ‘Golfgate’ controversy by People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy, who said it undermined the public health effort, and those involved seemed to believe the rules only applied to “little people”.

The photograph of the soirée was a ‘selfie’ taken by Niall Burgess, who was the secretary general of the department at the time but has since been appointed ambassador to France.

He tweeted the image with the caption “Now we’re walking on air…” but deleted it shortly afterwards.

The picture also features then-Deputy Secretary General Brendan Rogers, who is now the ambassador to the Netherlands, and John Concannon, who was the head of Leo Varadkar’s controversial Strategic Communications Unit in 2017. He is now director general of the department’s Global Ireland division.

A one-month-old baby was also held aloft by her mother in the crowd of officials for the photograph.

Details of the champagne party at Iveagh House have emerged as a similar controversy involving social gatherings at departmental offices continues in the UK.

An investigation is underway and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced calls to resign following reports of a Christmas party at Downing Street last year, as well a social gathering at the Department for Education and a leaving event for a No 10 aide.

The party at Iveagh House was likened by Paul Murphy to ‘Golfgate’, which took place in August 2020 and resulted in the resignation of Minister Dara Calleary and EU Commissioner Phil Hogan over a social event that breached public health advice.

“It will be very disappointing for many to see yet another example of those at the top breaking the rules that everybody else had to follow,” said the Dublin South-West TD.

“Top civil servants must have understood that this champagne party was in blatant breach of the public health regulations at the time. It suggests the same sort of attitude demonstrated by the politicians at ‘Golfgate’, which took place only a couple of months later – that the rules were really designed for the ‘little people’

“All of this undermines the public health effort,” added Mr Murphy.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the event took place after the team in charge of its Security Council campaign had worked throughout the day on June 17, 2020.

“Had Ireland not won the council seat on the first round of voting, the team would have had to work through the night to campaign for a second vote the next day,” he said.

“As it happened, we won in the first round and in a moment of happiness, as the result came in, we briefly let our guard down by celebrating together. It was 18 months ago and steps have been taken to ensure lessons have been learned.”

Today's Headlines

More Irish News

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices