Tánaiste Micheál Martin seeks legal advice from Attorney General on next steps
A drinking party held at army headquarters during Covid-19 did breach pandemic restrictions, a new independent report has found. But no prosecution will be brought against the Defence Forces due to the passage of time.
An independent investigation into the June 2020 event was ordered by the Government as the military’s own inquiry took too long.
A military police investigation into the party found restrictions had not been breached. Covid-19 restrictions in place at the time limited outdoor gatherings to 15 people. The Army did not contact An Garda Síochána at the time of the incident, and nor did the military police when the investigation began as it was treated as an internal matter.
But an external review into the barbecue by Hugh Mohan SC says there was a breach of regulations, the Irish Independent has learned. His report was passed straight to the gardaí, who came back to say it was too late at this point to take a prosecution.
Many breaches of Covid-19 regulations were summary offences so there was a six-month time limit on bringing charges.
Mr Mohan’s report is critical of the handling of the event.
He confirms there was verbal permission given for the holding of the outdoor party.
The Government is now getting the advice of the Attorney General on what to do next.
The report has been passed to the Defence Forces.
The whole affair is hugely embarrassing for the military top brass.
Remarkably, the outdoor party was held for members of the Defence Forces group that assisted with the response to the pandemic. The event was held at Defence Forces’ Covid Taskforce HQ at McKee Barracks on June 25, 2020.
But there were delays in the start and finish of a military police investigation.
The Government only received a formal report on the outcome of the military investigation this time last year – 20 months after the incident.
A number of senior officers were reprimanded for the party, which breached army rules on serving alcohol. But the Defence Forces always claimed Covid-19 rules were not broken.
The Department of Defence says the report is now back with Defence Minister Micheál Martin, and he is seeking the advice of the Attorney General.
“The report by Hugh Mohan SC on the external review of events in McKee Barracks on June 25, 2020, was received by the department before Christmas and was immediately referred to An Garda Síochána,” a Department of Defence spokesperson said.
“A response has now been received from An Garda Síochána and is being considered by the Minister for Defence in consultation with the Attorney General.”
The external review contradicts the Defence Forces’ own investigation into the party which found it didn’t break Covid-19 rules, but did breach its own alcohol policy.
The party has put further pressure on the Government to take action over the culture within the Defence Forces.
There is no indication yet of when or if Mr Mohan’s report will be published and what further action may be taken by the Government.
Mr Mohan was appointed a year ago to look at the military investigation into the event.
The Defence Forces described the event as an “outdoor late lunch”. The military police investigation into the event was reviewed by an army general. Following this, three senior officers were reprimanded by then Chief of Staff Mark Mellett as the serving of alcohol at the lunch “was ill-advised and inappropriate”.