Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has ordered an investigation into the champagne party in his department at the height of Covid-19 restrictions.
Mr Coveney 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 13th 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.
However, Mr Varadkar said Government ministers are powerless to take disciplinary action against civil servants who work in their departments.
The Fine Gael leader’s interview on RTÉ Radio One’s This Week earlier today has been described by his colleagues as a “car crash” after he struggle to respond to questions on the controversy which is now entering its third week.
Another Fine Gael TD said: “It’s one of the worst political interviews I’ve ever heard.”
Mr Varadkar said he did not know if the event in Iveagh House which saw around 20 civil servants huddle together unmasked drinking Moet and Chandon champagne was illegal.
The Tánaiste said only six people were permitted at an indoor social gathering at the time of the event in June 2020.
He said it was up to gardaí, not the Government, to investigate whether the party was an illegal gathering.
Mr Varadkar said it was “unfair” to suggest Mr Coveney was responsible for the party which took place in his department.
He said Mr Coveney did not organise or attend the party and said the matter is for the civil service to investigate.
“Politicians do not have the power or authority to discipline civil servants,” he said.
“We have authority over our political staff. We don’t have authority over civil servants. We have no power to reprimand them or discipline them. We don’t that’s just the way our system works,” he added.
Mr Varadkar said the party should not have happened but said it “appeared to be an impromptu event”.
“But it was, 18 months ago at this stage and, you know, perhaps a further investigation is required but I think it’s important that we put in perspective too,” he said.
Mr Coveney broke his silence on the party last week and revealed he knew about the party on the night of the event but decided against taking action.
He said he visited the department an hour and 45 minutes after his then secretary general Niall Burgess posted a photograph on Twitter showing the group of civil servants celebrating. The group of 20 people included one woman who appeared to have a newborn baby with her.
Mr Coveney has issued a number of statements on the controversy and the Department of Foreign Affairs has apologised for the incident which they conceded was in breach of Covid restrictions.
Mr Burgess has since been appointed as Irish Ambassador to France.
Mr Coveney has said he and his current secretary general will go before the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee to answer questions on the controversy.
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