'covid breach' | 

Simon Coveney 'knew about' his department's champagne party but 'didn't investigate'

The Foreign Affairs minister spoke for the first time after the controversial event and said his colleagues are 'all mortified'
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney is under pressure over the June 2020 departmental party

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney is under pressure over the June 2020 departmental party

Philip Ryan

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has revealed he knew about the champagne party in his department on the night it took place and admitted he decided against investigating the gathering even though it was in breach of Covid-19 guidelines.

In his first public comments on the latest controversy to engulf the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr Coveney said his officials are “all mortified” by the celebration which was posted on Twitter by the then secretary general Niall Burgess.

Mr Coveney said he was told by his team that Mr Burgess put a photograph on Twitter that was “clearly not a good idea” on the night of the event. The imaged showed the secretary general and 20 officials huddled together unmasked while drinking Moet and Chandon champagne.

“I didn’t know that there was, you know, an inappropriate gathering, albeit temporarily after the vote,” Mr Coveney told RTE Radio One’s News at One.

“I was told later on that a photograph was tweeted out and was later on, I think late that evening after midnight, was taken down,” he added.

Mr Coveney said he did not investigate the party at the time because he “trusted” his secretary general and did not feel there was no need for a “follow up”.

Asked how he could learn lessons without carrying an investigation, he said: “Well, because I think first the secretary general who was there, of course, needed to ensure that the department didn't allow a repeat of that dropping of the guard if you like, particularly at a time when, you know, the country was and continues to be rightly very sensitive.”

Mr Coveney said he and his department should “lead by example” when it comes to Covid regulations and said many of his staff are “embarrassed” and “ashamed” by what happened.

He said he does not think there is one rule for citizens and another for his officials despite the lack of any investigation into the champagne party.

The minister said he called into his department about an hour and three quarters after Ireland won a seat on UN Security Council which happened around 9.30pm on June 17, 2020.

He was in the Department of the Taoiseach with Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar at the time of the vote.

“I needed to go back to my department to finish my day's work. I called into the UN section to thank the people who were still there for the work they had done,” he said.

“I mean people were at work, you know, and when I arrived there certainly wasn't a party going on that's for sure,” he added.

The under-fire minister said he will be prepared to go before the Foreign Affairs Committee and answer questions on the gathering in his department. He said his current secretary general will also be willing to attend.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he has not checked to see if there were any other breaches of Covid-19 regulations in his or any other department when he was Taoiseach.

“I haven't but, you know, I'm certainly not aware of there being any social gatherings that would have been in breach of the regulations that are in place at the time,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the Department of Foreign Affairs party was a breach of Covid rules as social gatherings of more than six people indoors were not permitted at the time.

“It's clear to me that what happened in Iveagh House should not have happened on that night and the Department of Foreign Affairs accepts that. There has been an apology from those who were involved and I understand they have issued new guidelines since then,” he said.

Asked the difference between the event in Mr Coveney’s department and the on going controversy over parties in Number 10 Downing St, Mr Varadkar said his deputy leader was not involved in organising the party in his office.

“He didn't attend it and it seems to have been an impromptu gathering rather than one that was organised but that doesn't mean that it was okay. It still shouldn't have occurred,” he added.

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