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Champagne party review is attacked in the Dáil as a ‘whitewash’


Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

The internal government report into a party in the Department of Foreign Affairs has been branded a “whitewash” by opposition politicians amid calls for an independent investigation.

The department published the report, which was carried out by current secretary-
general Joe Hackett, into the event that took place in June 2020.

As a result of the review, former secretary-general and current ambassador to France Niall Burgess has been asked to donate €2,000 to charity.

Other senior officials have been asked to donate €1,000 to good causes.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, as well as Junior Minister Ciarán Cannon, should be interviewed over the controversy as they avoided scrutiny by the review team.

“This is a whitewash. It is an attempt to absolve Simon Coveney of any political or more factual responsibility for the breaches of the Covid regulations which took place,” Mr Murphy said.

He said Mr Coveney should be questioned as a witness to the aftermath of the event and because “the buck stops with Simon Coveney”.

Sinn Féin has called for an independent investigation and said it should be headed by a retired judge or a senior official from a different government department.

TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said a “senior civil servant” should head the independent review, but declined to say if it should be somebody from the Department of the Taoiseach.

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However, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there will be no more inquiries into the breach of Covid-19 guidelines at a Foreign Affairs Department celebration party.

Rejecting the call for further investigations and a special Dáil debate, Mr Martin rounded on the deputy leader of Sinn Féin, Pearse Doherty, sparking angry scenes in the Dáil yesterday.

He said the short-lived incident at the Foreign Affairs Department was wrong, but it did not bear comparison with Sinn Féin bringing 2,000 people on to the streets of Belfast for the funeral of IRA man Bobby Storey at a time of lockdown.

Mr Martin said the issue of the party at the height of the Covid lockdown in June 2020 had been investigated by Mr Hackett, and he would not call any more inquiries.

“I am satisfied with the investigation that has taken place,” Mr Martin said.

“Deputy Doherty, I am genuinely taken aback by your tone and your attitude.

“Your are the deputy leader of a party that invited almost 2,000 people on to the streets and then on to a political rally at Milltown Cemetery.”

He added that the maximum permitted funeral attendance at the time was 30 mourners, and many ordinary people, who Sinn Féin claimed to champion, were distraught by being barred from loved ones’ funerals.

“There’s one law for Sinn Féin and a different law for everyone else,” the Taoiseach said.

The Sinn Féin deputy leader responded that a champagne party and a friend’s funeral could not be compared.

He demanded the Taoiseach say when Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney would come before the Dáil and explain himself.

“This is the work of a minister who is out of touch, who has been at the helm for too long,” Mr Doherty said.

The Taoiseach said Sinn Féin had never admitted wrong-doing in organising the Bobby Storey funeral in June 2020, just days after the controversial party in Dublin.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl had to intervene to restore order.

Mr Coveney and his secretary-general are expected to be called before an Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in the coming weeks to address further questions about the party in his department.

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