Minister disagrees with party colleague on need for external investigation into champagne celebration

Minister Darragh O’Brien said he is ‘content’ at the process to examine the event

Minister Darragh O'Brien has disagreed with a suggestion by Fianna Fáil colleague Anne Rabbitte that there needs to be external investigation into a champagne celebrate at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

He has said he is "content" at the process that sees the Department's secretary general Joe Hackett examine the event that took place in June 2020 and appeared to breach Covid-19 restrictions in place at the time.

Officials were photographed in the department celebrating Ireland's election onto the United Nations Security Council. The image was posted on Twitter by the then-secretary general Niall Burgess. The tweet was later deleted. At the time of the event, there were strict restrictions on the size of gatherings due to Covid-19.

On Saturday Minister of State at the Department of Health Ms Rabbitte said the celebration was "inexcusable".


She said: “Having a champagne reception in any government department at that time, I know over in the Department of Health where they worked tirelessly for 23, 24 hours a day, it was far from champagne they were having,” she said.

Ms Rabbitte said an internal report conducted by the department’s current secretary general was not a satisfactory way to handle the matter.

“It’s still within the same department, and we know the answer we will get. I would be one for openness and transparency ... it has to be [an external report].”

She added that all departments needed to learn from the mistake.

At a press conference on Monday Mr O’Brien was asked if he agreed with Ms Rabbitte. He said the process on how the event will be investigated has been agreed and added: “I’m content with that.”

Mr O’Brien said a lot of lessons have been learned from what happened and people have apologised and he said: “It shouldn’t have happened.”

He also said: “As someone who works day in day out with the civil and public sector have immense regard for people in that they’re going to be able to carry out their duties in an independent way and I’m content with that.”

Mr O'Brien also said that Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said he will to go before an Oireachtas committee to answer questions on the matter. "I think that is really the end of it as far as I'm concerned," Mr O'Brien said.

He was also asked if he agreed with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar when he suggested that politicians do not have the power to discipline civil servants.

Mr O’Brien said he didn’t want to prejudice the investigation.

He said civil servants he works with are: “incredibly diligent, work really hard, are committed to their job.

“When and if issues arise from time to time there is a process within the civil service and the public service that takes place and disciplinary action if required”.

He added that he believed the point Mr Varadkar was making was in relation to what a line minister can do when it comes to some one working in their department.

Mr O’Brien said: “There are options available there but you have to allow the HR process happen and to be fair we need to make sure that the report is done, that the investigation is allowed to happen independently and that will happen.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times