Officials involved in champagne celebration "let their guard down", says Coveney 4 months ago

Officials involved in champagne celebration "let their guard down", says Coveney

The Minister said the officials involved are "all mortified by what happened".

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has spoken out about the controversial champagne celebration that occurred in his department in the summer of 2020, stating that the officials involved "let their guard down".

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He also said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) officials were all "mortified by what happened" and that lessons were learned from the incident.

It emerged last month that as many as 20 DFA senior officials and staff gathered at the department's headquarters in Iveagh House on 17 June.

The gathering was held following Ireland's election to the United Nations Security Council, with a selfie photograph taken and subsequently tweeted by the department's Secretary General at the time, Niall Burgess, showing officials and staff standing close together without face coverings. The photo has since been deleted from the platform.

At the time of the gathering, Ireland was in Phase Two of its initial reopening plan during which Covid restrictions meant that people were only permitted to meet up with six other individuals from outside their household.

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Appearing on RTÉ News at One, Coveney reiterated that he did not attend the celebration.

"I was in the Department of the Taoiseach that night... It was an evening when I... was watching... the vote in the UN that resulted in us gaining a seat on the security council after three or four years of campaigning to be there," he explained.

"Unfortunately, in my department, there were 20 or so officials who'd been very much involved in that successful campaign and when the vote came through, they celebrated in a way that they shouldn't have.

"They let their guard down. I have to say, they're all mortified by what happened now.

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"That shouldn't have happened and the department has apologised for it."

Coveney was also asked if he joined the gathering with the group at any stage.

"I was back in my department working later on that night but it was about an hour and three quarters after the vote," he said.

"I needed to go back to my department to finish my day's work. I called in to the UN section to thank the people who were still there for the work that they done."

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He added that when he arrived there "certainly wasn't a party going on" and that he stayed for about 10 minutes.

Speaking about when he became aware of the celebration, Coveney said that he was told later on that evening that a photograph was tweeted out and then taken down.

"My Secretary General at the time acknowledged that it shouldn't have happened and it was a momentary, I think, drop of our guard, I think, was what he said," the Minister told the programme.

He also said he did not later seek an investigation into the celebration.

"This was something that had happened. It was quite public because it was put up on social media... there was an acknowledgment of wrongdoing," he said.

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"I trusted my Secretary General and I felt that clearly what happened shouldn't have happened but I didn't feel that there was a need for follow-up after that.

"This is something that I think many in the department are very embarrassed about and feel ashamed about but it happened.

"It didn't happen since. I think from that point of view the lesson was learned."

The Minister said he would "of course" go before the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee if he was asked to answer further questions on the matter.

Main image via Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie