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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Simon Coveney accused of avoiding questions relating to disciplinary action for staff who attended champagne party in June 2020

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has been accused of avoiding questions relating to disciplinary action for his staff who attended a champagne party last June which was held in response to Ireland winning a seat on the UN Security Council, however, controversy arose as the party was held while strict health measures were in place.

The Covid-19 restrictions that were in place at the time of the gathering prevented more than six people from different households to meet both indoors and outdoors. The Department of Foreign Affairs has apologised for the breach in regulations, however, disciplinary action relating to the breach still remains.

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When asked by reporters why no further action has been taken, Coveney responded with, “I made a detailed statement in relation to that on Wednesday, and I’ve really nothing further to add”. According to officials, Coveney would not be facilitating any media questions yesterday and that he was in London after meeting the new Brexit Minister Liz Truss.

Coveney has consistently denied that he attended the event but that he had spoken to staff after Ireland won the seat before returning to his office ten minutes later. One question aimed at Coveney was if he had seen any evidence of glasses, bottles or a recent celebration; the minister responded with, “As I said, I made a detailed statement in writing on Wednesday and I’ve nothing further to add. I’ve said what I’ve had to say on it, and I’m leaving it at that.”

Coveney’s statement was issued after Taoiseach Micheál Martin criticised a photo that emerged on Twitter of the event. The photo was taken by former Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary General Niall Burgess and reveals a group of officials huddling together with no mask masks nor adherence to social distancing rules while one of the members is seen holding a baby in their arms.

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The photo, which was captioned with “Now we’re walking on air”, was deleted shortly afterwards with Mr. Burgess issuing an apology to a smaller Twitter user at around midnight. The Department of Foreign Affairs had apologised for the event after the photo re-emerged at Christmas.

The champagne event had also taken place weeks before Katherine Zappone had organised a gathering at the Merrion Hotel with Coveney attempting to appoint her as an Irish Special Envoy to the United Nations last year, a nomination that came as a surprise to the Taoiseach.

Zappone later withdrew from the process due to the backlash that followed her nomination. Coveney had then apologised to both Taoiseach Micheál Martin and his party leader Leo Varadkar for the surprise of the name being brought. Regarding the champagne event, Micheál Martin said no further action was being taken in terms of sanctions against staff who were involved in the event.

Coveney explained that it was a “workday” for him and that he did not attend a champagne party while explaining that he was in Government Buildings for the UN Security Council vote at the time the photograph was taken.

“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.” He reiterated that he had thanked his staff for their work after Ireland won its seat, however, he returned to his office for a call with the Norweigan Foreign Minister and for ongoing briefings on the Coalition Government negotiations.

IMAGE – “Simon Carbery Coveney” (CC BY 2.0) by EU2017EE

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