Coveney to be asked to appear before committee over celebration

It is likely that Minister will appear after the internal investigation is complete

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will be asked to appear before an Oireachtas committee to answer questions about the impromptu celebration held by 20 members of his department’s staff in June 2020.

The Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs met on Tuesday afternoon to make a decision on how the committee plans to examine the gathering.

It was agreed that Mr Coveney will be asked to appear while members also want to see the terms of reference of an internal investigation ordered by the Minister.

A tweet of a photo posted by then secretary general Neil Burgess - now the Irish Ambassador to France - shortly after Ireland won a seat on the UN Security Council showed people celebrating with champagne in Iveagh House.

It emerged on Sunday night that Mr Coveney last week asked the general secretary of the department, Joe Hackett, to examine the circumstances.

It is understood Mr Coveney will attend the committee and is waiting on a formal invitation. It is likely he will appear after the internal investigation is complete.

Concerns were expressed during Tuesday’s meeting about Mr Hackett carrying out the investigation and that some committee members believe the investigation should be independent of the department.

The chair of the committee, Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, confirmed that Mr Coveney would be asked to appear. He said, however, that he did not want to see a “political circus” arising from the decision.

It is understood that the committee expects the internal investigation to be swift and that members expect it to be completed within a matter of weeks, with Mr Coveney appearing after it has concluded its work.

Sinn Féin’s defence spokeswoman Sorca Clarke welcomed the decision of the committee to ask Mr Coveney to appear.

“As I outlined in today’s committee meeting, I believe it is important that the Minister comes before us and provides a full and frank account of the event at Iveagh House.

“I am concerned that the Minister has not learnt from the controversy around the appointment of Katherine Zappone as a UN envoy. We have seen a drip feeding of information about this event, long after it occurred. This isn’t good enough. We need to see a full and frank account of what happened and what steps, if any, the Minister took to act,” she said.

“I would urge Minister Coveney to confirm as a matter of priority when he will make himself available to the committee to give this account. There cannot be one rule for those in public office and another for members of the public.”