Irish officials and staff celebrated with champagne in their office during a “moment of happiness” after Ireland was elected to the UN Security Council in an apparent breach of coronavirus rules.
A photograph taken at Iveagh House, Ireland’s foreign affairs headquarters, showed at least 20 maskless staff ignoring social distancing regulations and drinking Moët & Chandon when Ireland was under strict lockdown measures.
Indoor gatherings of more than seven people were banned, people were told to work from home and were not allowed to travel from their counties and funerals were restricted to 25 people.
The picture was put on Twitter with the caption “Now we’re walking on air…” on June 17 last year before being deleted, the Irish Times reported.
The photograph, which showed senior staff and one woman holding a baby aloft, was a “selfie” taken by Niall Burgess, the department’s secretary general and now Ireland’s ambassador to France.
The foreign affairs department blamed a “moment of happiness” for the party in an office and insisted that “lessons have been learned”. Ireland had been chosen for a two year term on the Security Council, beginning at the start of 2021.
Irish members of parliament criticised the gathering of staff for undermining the public health effort and compared it to “Golfgate”.
Golfgate was an August 2020 scandal that forced the resignation of Dara Calleary, a minister, and Phil Hogan, Ireland’s EU commissioner, over a social event that broke public health guidelines.
Paul Murphy, the Dublin South-West TD, said, “Top civil servants must have understood that this champagne party was in blatant breach of the public health regulations at the time.
“It suggests the same sort of attitude demonstrated by the politicians at ‘Golfgate’, which took place only a couple of months later – that the rules were really designed for the ‘little people’.”
A spokesman said, “The Department of Foreign Affairs Security Council campaign team was working in a large open-plan area of Iveagh House throughout the day of 17 June 2020.
He said: “Had Ireland not won the council seat on the first round of voting, the team would have had to work through the night to campaign for a second vote the next day.
“As it happened, we won in the first round and in a moment of happiness, as the result came in, we briefly let our guard down by celebrating together. It was 18 months ago and steps have been taken to ensure lessons have been learned.”