Department of Foreign Affairs staff held champagne event during lockdown

Gathering took place after Ireland elected to the UN Security Council in June 2020

At least 20 senior officials and staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs celebrated with champagne at Iveagh House in a manner appearing to breach public health guidelines during lockdown last year.

At least 20 senior officials and staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs celebrated with champagne at Iveagh House in a manner appearing to breach public health guidelines during lockdown last year.

 

At least 20 senior officials and staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs celebrated with champagne at Iveagh House in a manner appearing to breach public health guidelines during lockdown last year.

A photograph from the event shows the group huddled in an office at the department’s headquarters, drinking bottles of Moët & Chandon without face coverings or regard for physical distancing.

The gathering took place after Ireland was elected to the UN Security Council on June 17th, 2020. The department has blamed “a moment of happiness” for the incident and insisted that “lessons have been learned”.

The country was in the midst of a strict lockdown in response to a surge in Covid-19 infections at the time. People were confined to their own counties, and indoor gatherings of more than seven people were prohibited.

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People were also asked to work from home where possible, and many were unable to attend the funerals of loved ones due to a limit of 25 on the number of people who could attend a service.

The Government had also published a protocol for returning to work, which emphasised the need to maintain physical distancing and avoid face-to-face contact in the workplace.

The photograph of the gathering was a “selfie” taken by Niall Burgess, who was the secretary general of the department at the time but has since been appointed ambassador to France. He tweeted the image with the caption “Now we’re walking on air…” but deleted it shortly afterwards.

‘Let guard down’

The Iveagh House gathering has been compared to the “Golfgate” controversy by People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy, who said it undermined the public health effort, and those involved seemed to believe the rules only applied to “little people”.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the event took place after the team in charge of its UN Security Council campaign had worked throughout the day on June 17th, 2020.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs Security Council campaign team was working in a large open-plan area of Iveagh House throughout the day of 17 June 2020. Had Ireland not won the council seat on the first round of voting, the team would have had to work through the night to campaign for a second vote the next day.

“As it happened, we won in the first round and in a moment of happiness, as the result came in, we briefly let our guard down by celebrating together. It was 18 months ago and steps have been taken to ensure lessons have been learned.”