Irish FM orders investigation of ‘Johnson-like’ government lockdown party

Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. [EPA-EFE/VIRGINIA MAYO]

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has initiated an inquiry into a gathering held by officials from his department in June 2020 while the country was in lockdown.

Controversy has been mounting over the event held in celebration of Ireland winning a seat on the UN Security Council. In December 2021, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) issued a statement of apology, saying “the Department did not meet the standards expected of it with this gathering and we are sorry that it happened.”

At the time of the party, national rules limited gatherings to a maximum of six people from outside a person’s household, a cap of 25 attendees at funerals was still in place, and travel within the country was restricted.

A photo of the gathering posted on Twitter by then-DFA Secretary General Niall Burgess, now Ireland’s Ambassador to France, shows that the approximately 20 attendees were not wearing masks or socially distancing. The photo was removed later that evening.

Coveney has since said that he learned of the gathering after the photo was shared but chose not to launch an investigation given that there was an “acknowledgement of wrongdoing” on Burgess’ part and he, therefore, had not felt there was a need for a follow-up.

The investigation will be led by the DFA’s new Secretary-General, and will be completed by the end of the month.

Coveney said on 14 January that he would be willing to appear before lawmakers over the event, something which a majority of the Oireachtas’ foreign affairs committee told broadcaster RTÉ on Monday they favour.

Government lockdown gatherings are causing similar political turmoil in the UK, as reports continue to emerge of parties and related events held by officials while the public was subject to tight restrictions.

(Molly Killeen | EURACTIV.com)

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