tight lipped | 

Simon Coveney refuses to answer questions on lockdown-breaking champagne bash

The Foreign Affairs Minister has refused to answer questions about the party held by officials in June 2020 while the country was still in lockdown.
Simon Coveney has faced questions over a champagne celebration attended by officials (PA)

Simon Coveney has faced questions over a champagne celebration attended by officials (PA)

By James Ward, PA

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has dodged questions on a champagne reception held by officials in his department that flouted lockdown rules.

Mr Coveney this week said he had not attended the bash at the Iveagh House in June 2020, where his staff were celebrating after Ireland won a seat on the United Nations security council, while strict lockdown measures were still in place.

In a statement on Wednesday, the minister denied attending the event but said he had spoken to staff after the result, thanking them for their work on the campaign, before returning to his office after 10 minutes.

I made a detailed statement in writing on Wednesday and I have nothing further to add

Simon Coveney

When approached by reporters on Friday, he refused to say if his officials would be disciplined for the breach, or if he is prepared to answer questions on the matter before the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I made a detailed statement in writing on Wednesday and I have nothing further to add,” Mr Coveney said on arrival at the King’s Inn in Dublin, where he was attending a book launch on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty.

The minister was also asked if he was avoiding questions on the issue and if he had seen any evidence of the party when he thanked his officials.

“I’ve said what I had to say on it and I’m leaving it at that,” he replied.

Mr Coveney’s attendance at Friday’s book launch, marking the centenary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, was flagged in the Government’s ministerial public engagements diary earlier this week.

But the press office at the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday the engagement had been added “by mistake”, and that he would not be speaking to the press.

The department has apologised for the incident, issuing a statement saying “we briefly let out guard down”, after a photo emerged showing officials toasting with champagne.

At least 20 officials and staff at the department were pictured at the event in Iveagh House on June 17 2020 while pandemic restrictions were still in place.

A spokesperson said steps were taken to ensure “lessons have been learned” following the breach of public health guidelines.

Addressing the controversy on Wednesday, Mr Coveney issued a statement saying: “June 17th, 2020, was a workday for me. At no point during that day did I attend a champagne celebration.

“I was in Government Buildings for the UN Security Council vote.

“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.

“It should not have happened and the then Secretary-General admitted the mistake 18 months ago. The department apologised again last week for the breach.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said he did not attend the celebration (Peter Byrne/PA)

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said he did not attend the celebration (Peter Byrne/PA)

He added: “I spoke to and thanked the staff involved in the UN campaign in the UN section of Iveagh House.

“I did not see the Covid breach from the earlier photograph and I was thanking our officials in their workplace on a workday for the work they had done on behalf of the State.

“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.”

Mr Coveney recently survived a motion of no-confidence in the Dail over another controversy related to former minister Katherine Zappone’s appointment as a special UN envoy.


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