Minister dismisses call for independent inquiry into champagne event

A report has found there was a 'serious breach' of social distancing rules at the June 2020 celebration at the Department of Foreign Affairs
Minister dismisses call for independent inquiry into champagne event

Vivienne Clarke

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has dismissed a Sinn Féin call for an independent inquiry into events involving champagne at Iveagh House during which Covid-19 protocols were breached.

A report has found there was a “serious breach” of Covid-19 social distancing rules at the June 2020 celebration at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The controversy came to light after a photo of around 20 staff, seen drinking Moet Champagne, was tweeted by the former secretary general Niall Burgess, before being quickly deleted.

The report found “no evidence” that any breach took place while Minister Simon Coveney was present, or that the event had been planned in advance.

Mr Coveney told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland: “I don’t see what else there is to know here.”

“Clearly this shouldn’t have happened, it was a moment of celebration. That was careless,” he said.

I don’t see what else there is to know here

The Minister said he understood that people had been very annoyed. He pointed out that he had not been there when the event occurred. He said that when he arrived later, a member of his staff told him about the photograph that the secretary general had tweeted.

The photo was taken down, but not at his request, Mr Coveney said. "I didn’t speak to him."

“I accept, with the benefit of hindsight, knowing what I know now, I would speak with the secretary general. I trusted him, this event was completely uncharacteristic.”

“I saw it as a workplace mistake and that he would deal with it,” he added.

'Fair report'

Mr Coveney said that “any fair-minded person will view this as a fair report,” when asked about the independence of the review by Joe Hackett.

Earlier on Morning Ireland, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said that the internal review did not provide accountability because Mr Coveney’s role was not covered.

“We said this report wouldn't deliver accountability and that is what we've seen”.

The Minister “did nothing” on the night when he was alerted to the breach of Covid-19 restrictions and only set up an investigation to try and “bury” the issue when he was forced to, said Mr Doherty.

Sinn Féin was not alone in expressing concern about the review, he added. Mr Hackett had not interviewed the Minister for the review because it was outside his terms of reference. Those terms of reference had been drafted by Simon Coveney, he said.

“In my view, this minister in particular hasn't learned any lessons from the Katherine Zappone scandal, hasn't learned any lessons in terms of accountability and it's probably a symptom in my view that these ministers are in Government for far too long”.


The report was critical of former secretary general Mr Burgess, who is now the Irish Ambassador to France, saying he was “largely responsible” for the breach.

“By providing alcohol and organising a group photograph, the then secretary general was largely responsible for facilitating the breach of social distance guidance that occurred,” the report stated.

“His actions were uncharacteristic errors of judgment. He sincerely regrets this.”

Mr Burgess has been asked to make a donation of €2,000 to “a charity providing assistance to people affected by Covid”. Three senior officials present on the night have been asked to make similar donations of €1,000.

Mr Hackett has recommended that no further action is taken.

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