Simon Coveney declines to answer further questions on Iveagh House champagne gathering
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney pictured at a book launch at Kings Inn in Dublin. Picture: Frank McGrath
January 07 2022 07:13 PM
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney avoided questions tonight on the Iveagh House champagne party affair as he arrived home from London.
Mr Coveney — whose Department has apologised for the breach — was asked why he had not taken any disciplinary action against staff who broke lockdown rules over Covid, one of whom has since been appointed an Ambassador.
“I made a detailed statements in relation to that on Wednesday, and I’ve really nothing further to add,” Mr Coveney said as he arrived at King’s Inns for a book launch about the Treaty negotiations.
The event had been flagged as a Ministerial public engagement earlier this week before Mr Coveney’s Department said yesterday it had shown up in his diary by mistake.
His officials in Dublin said he would not be facilitating media questions yesterday and was in London after meeting new British Brexit Minister Liz Truss.
The Minster was asked if he had been avoiding questions, and whether, when he had looked in on the team organising the successful campaign to win a United Nations Security Council seat to thank them for their work, he had seen any evidence of glasses, bottles or a recent celebration.
“As I said, I made a detailed statement in writing on Wednesday and I’ve nothing further to add. I’ve said what I’ve had to say on it, and I’m leaving it at that.”
Asked if he would go before the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee to answer questions about a Covid gathering for the second time in six months, Mr Coveney said: “I’ve nothing further to add. Thank you.”
Mr Coveney issued his statement after the Taoiseach on Wednesday criticised the gathering after a selfie picture emerged showing staff standing close together and raising champagne flutes to toast the seat win — which came weeks before Katherine Zappone organised a gathering at the Merrion Hotel.
Mr Coveney presided over an attempt to appoint her as an Irish Special Envoy to the United Nations last year. Ms Zappone — whose nomination came as a surprise to the Taoiseach at Cabinet — later withdrew from the process.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and his party leader Leo Varadkar later apologised to the Taoiseach for the surprise of the name being brought.
It is not clear whether Mr Coveney has again apologised to the Taoiseach over the champagne lockdown party in his Department, which Mr Martin said this week was wrong and should not have happened.
But the Taoiseach also said the matter was not being taken any further in terms of sanctions against any of the staff involved.
In his statement this week, Mr Coveney said: “June 17th 2020 was a work day for me. At no point during that day did I attend a champagne celebration.
“I was in Government Buildings for the UN Security Council vote. It was at this time a photograph was taken at Iveagh House that showed DFA officials breaching Covid guidelines.
“I had no prior knowledge of this impromptu gathering in the workplace. It should not have happened and the then Secretary General admitted the mistake 18 months ago.
“The Department apologised again last week for the breach. After the vote that night I held meetings, calls and a press conference in Government Buildings before returning to work in my department.
“I spoke to and thanked the staff involved in the UN campaign in the UN section of Iveagh House. I did not see the Covid breach from the earlier photograph and I was thanking our officials in their workplace on a workday for the work they had done on behalf of the State.
“After 10 minutes I returned to my office in Iveagh House to prepare for a call with the Norwegian Foreign Minister and for ongoing briefings on the Coalition Government negotiations.”