Department of Foreign Affairs ‘let guard down’ in lockdown gathering
The Department of Foreign Affairs says staff working there “let our guard down” after a photo emerged showing an apparent breach of Covid-19 guidelines.
At least 20 officials and staff at the department were pictured celebrating with champagne in an event at Iveagh House on 17 June 2020 while pandemic restrictions were still in place.
A spokesperson said steps were taken to ensure “lessons have been learned” following the breach of public health guidelines.
The party took place after the country secured a seat on the UN Security Council following a 15-year campaign.
The Department has refused to say whether Minister Simon Coveney attended a champagne party at Iveagh House at any point during the night. It is understood the minister was in Government Buildings when the results of the UN Security Council election were announced.
He received a query by text message today but did not reply. Similarly, his office did not respond to an email asking if he attended the celebration at any time on 17 June 2020. Iveagh House is located just over 1km from Government Buildings.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who was a minister of state at the Department of Foreign Affairs at the time of the gathering, did not attend the celebration, according to her spokesperson.
In a statement earlier, the department said: “The Department of Foreign Affairs security council campaign team was working in a large open plan area of Iveagh House throughout the day of June 17 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.”
Strict lockdown controls were still in place at the time of the party, with indoor gatherings of more than seven people prohibited.
People were unable to travel outside their own counties, funeral attendances were limited to just 25 people and the public had been urged to work from home where possible. 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 “selfie” photo was taken by the then-secretary general at the department, Niall Burgess, who has since taken up the role of Ambassador to France.
Also featured are John Concannon, who worked on the UN Security Council campaign and was once the head of the controversial strategic communications unit under Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in 2017.
Concannon has since moved on to become director-general of the department’s Global Ireland division.
Brendan Rogers, the then-deputy secretary-general at the department, who went on to become Ambassador to the Netherlands, also appears in the photo.
Independent TD Michael McNamara has criticised the department for “hypocrisy”.
He wrote on Twitter: “The same department ceased processing passports applications during 2020 (without any lawful basis) to enforce lockdown.
“Maybe hypocrisy is an inevitable part of such a hysterical response.”