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Coveney rejects call for independent inquiry into Champagne event

Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney has rejected a call by Sinn Féin for an independent inquiry into the events at Iveagh House in which Covid protocols were breached.

A report on the Champagne event in 2020 found that ‘a breach of social distancing guidelines occurred’ when Foreign Office staff gathered physically to celebrate Ireland’s election to the UN Security Council.

The breach was captured in a photo taken by former Department General Secretary Niall Burgess, who has since been asked to donate €2,000 to charity.

The photo was posted on Twitter but was later deleted.

“I don’t see what else there is to know here,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland programme. “It is clear that this should not have happened, it was a moment of celebration. It was careless.

The minister, who was not present at the event, said he understood that people had been very annoyed.

Mr Coveney said when he arrived later a member of his staff told him about the picture Mr Burgess had tweeted. It was withdrawn, but not at Mr Coveney’s request, he said.

Mr Coveney said he did not speak to the General Secretary, saying ‘I trusted him’, but he accepted that, ‘in hindsight, knowing what I know now’ he would have spoken to him. “This event was completely unusual,” he added.

Mr Coveney said it was up to the general secretary to deal with what he saw as a “mistake in the workplace”.

The minister added that ‘any unbiased person will regard this as a fair report’ when asked about the independence of the review by the department’s current secretary general, Joe Hackett.

Responsibility

Earlier in Morning Ireland, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said the internal review did not ensure accountability as Mr Coveney’s role was not covered.

The minister ‘did nothing’ the night he was alerted to the breach of Covid-19 restrictions and only launched an investigation to try and ‘bury’ the issue when forced to, Mr. Doherty said.

Sinn Féin were not the only ones worried about the review, he added.

Mr. Doherty said Mr. Hackett did not interview Mr. Coveney for the review because it was outside his terms of reference, but added that those terms of reference were written by Mr. Coveney.

“In my view, this particular minister has learned no lessons from the Katherine Zappone scandal, has learned no lessons in terms of accountability and it’s probably a symptom in my view that these ministers have been in government for too long. ”