fizzy quizzing | 

TDs and and Senators set to grill Coveney and top official over Champagne party

A review published this week found Niall Burgess 'largely responsible' for facilitating the breach of social distancing guidelines

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Frank McGrath

Hugh O'Connell

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and his Department's most senior civil servant will appear before the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday to answer questions over the Iveagh House champagne party.

TDs and Senators are likely to probe Mr Coveney and his secretary general Joe Hackett over the controversial event which an internal report carried out by Mr Hackett found breached Covid-19 guidelines.

In a review released earlier this week, Mr Hackett found his predecessor Niall Burgess was “largely responsible” for facilitating the breach of social distancing guidelines in the department on 17 June 2020.

Mr Burgess took a selfie of the gathering, in which staff were pictured failing to observe social distancing, with some holding up champagne flutes. Bottles of champagne were also visible in the photograph. He tweeted the picture but later deleted it and apologised.

Mr Burgess, who provided what the report described as "sparkling wine", was asked to donate €2,000 to charity while three other unnamed officials were asked to donate €1,000 each.

Mr Hackett said that Mr Burgess, who is now Irish Ambassador to France, placed colleagues, particularly more junior ones, in a “difficult position” with his actions.

“This may have been a brief lapse, but has understandably raised public concern. It has also damaged the reputation of the department,” Mr Hackett said in his review.

Mr Coveney and Mr Hackett are due to appear before the committee next Tuesday at 4.45pm.

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