Taoiseach says department gathering ‘clearly in breach’ of Covid-19 rules

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney due to go before Oireachtas Committee

A photograph of the celebration  posted on Twitter by then secretary general of the department Niall Burgess

A photograph of the celebration posted on Twitter by then secretary general of the department Niall Burgess

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said “an impromptu gathering” at the Department of Foreign Affairs in June 2020 should not have happened and was “clearly in breach” of Covid-19 guidelines in place at the time.

Mr Martin said the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is prepared to go before an Oireachtas Committee and explain what happened on the night

Mr Martin was responding to questions from People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy in the Dáil on Wednesday.

A tweet of a photo posted by then secretary general Niall 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.

Mr Coveney, who has said he addressed staff for about 10 minutes to thank them for their work in securing the security council seat, has asked the general secretary of his department, Joe Hackett, to examine the circumstances.

Mr Murphy asked the Taoiseach did he think gardaí should investigate the gathering or were “Covid fines only for the little people?”

He also asked whether Mr Martin had confidence in an in-house investigation and should the minister come before the House to answer questions.

In response, Mr Martin said gardaí initiate their own investigations and that politicians “do not tell them to, nor should they”.

“Government certainly should not be involved in how the law works,” he said. “We do not engage in the operational activities of the gardaí. Increasingly, we hear clarion calls that the guards should do this and arrest this or that person. That is not the remit of the political world, nor should it be.”

Mr Martin said the people involved have said what they did was wrong, “and it was wrong.

“It should not have happened and was clearly in breach of guidelines,” Mr Martin said. He said those involved had put their hands up and apologised for what was “an impromptu gathering, it seems to me.

“They were there in anticipation of a second vote in the Security Council. Ireland won on the first count. The previous Government had been campaigning for the Security Council and apparently on the first count Ireland got elected,” he added.

“The anticipation was there would be a lot of work required for the second count, in terms of working the phones to secure our place. That is my understanding but the Minister is prepared to go before the Oireachtas committee and explain what happened on the night.”