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Simon Coveney admits he visited Department office after champagne celebration

A week after controversy emerged, Mr Coveney has finally conceded he did visit his department after a champagne celebration took place
Simon Coveney. Photo: Damien Storan

Simon Coveney. Photo: Damien Storan

Philip Ryan and Senan Molony

Embattled Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has admitted he was in his department on the night of the controversial champagne party which was a breach of Covid-19 restrictions.

A week after the controversy emerged, Mr Coveney has finally conceded he did visit his department after a champagne celebration.

That evening, a photograph appeared on Twitter showing 20 of his staff huddled together, unmasked and drinking Moët & Chandon to celebrate Ireland winning a seat on the UN Security Council.

The country was still under severe lockdown measures at the time of the Department of Foreign Affairs photograph, taken in June 2020.

The under-fire minister, who has issued three separate statements on the latest controversy to engulf his department, said he spoke to staff for 10 minutes on arriving back to office after the photograph taken by his then-secretary general Niall Burgess was posted on Twitter.

Mr Coveney has made it clear he was not at the actual event.

Mr Coveney, who recently survived a Dáil no-confidence motion, said the day of the photograph, June 17th, 2020, was a “work day” and added that “at no point” did he “attend a champagne celebration”.

He said he was in Government Buildings for the UN Security Council vote and “it was at this time a photograph was taken at Iveagh House that showed DFA officials breaching Covid guidelines”.

“I had no prior knowledge of this impromptu gathering in the workplace,” he added.

Mr Coveney said he “did not see the Covid breach from the earlier photograph” but admitted he was in the Department after the photograph of the champagne celebration was posted online.

“I was thanking our officials in their workplace on a workday for the work they had done on behalf of the State,” he said.

“After 10 minutes I returned to my office in Iveagh House to prepare for a call with the Norwegian foreign minister and for ongoing briefings on the coalition government negotiations.”

Earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that Mr Coveney “made it clear” he was not at the event.

Mr Martin said he does not intend on taking the matter further and said no one will be disciplined for the breach of Covid-19 rules.

In his latest statement, Mr Coveney said Mr Burgess, who is now the Irish Ambassador to France and Monaco, admitted the mistake in holding the gathering when it arose in June 2020.

This is a reference to Mr Burgess responding to a Twitter account holder with just over 100 followers at midnight after he posted the photograph.

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