Simon Coveney ‘was with Taoiseach’ at time of department staff’s Covid party pic
4th January 2022
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney was in his department at “different points during the day” of the controversial champagne party organised by his most senior official, according to his spokesperson.
Mr Coveney has not spoken publicly about the party or clarified whether he visited the department after his then secretary-general Niall Burgess took the photograph of more than 20 officials huddled together drinking champagne.
In a new statement, the minister’s spokesperson said he had “no prior knowledge” of the party to celebrate Ireland winning a seat on the UN Security Council.
“On June 17th 2020 the minister was working in Government Buildings and his department at different points during the day,” he said.
“He was in Government Buildings with the Taoiseach at the time of the photograph in Iveagh House that showed a breach of Covid guidelines.
“The minister had no prior knowledge of this impromptu gathering in the workplace. It should not have happened and the then-Secretary-General acknowledged the mistake the next day. The department apologised again last week for the breach.”
Mr Coveney has not offered clarity on whether he attended the event in his own department which was a breach of the Government’s Covid-19 restrictions.
In an effort to downplay the controversy over the champagne party, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the ex-secretary-general made a “public apology” the “very next day”.
It later confirmed the apology was a late-night tweet from Mr Burgess to a Twitter user with 240 followers.
The Department of Foreign Affairs apologised formally for the event after the photograph re-emerged over Christmas.
The image from the event shows the group huddled together in an office at the department’s headquarters, drinking bottles of Moët & Chandon without face coverings or regard for physical distancing.
Mr Burgess tweeted it with the caption, “Now we’re walking on air…” He deleted it shortly afterwards.
Mr Coveney’s spokesperson did not respond to queries on whether the minister went to the department after the photograph was taken.