The Department of Foreign Affairs investigation into a picture of officials drinking champagne during lockdown is “not credible at all”, according to former minister Shane Ross.
The picture was taken as department staff celebrated Ireland winning a seat on the United Nations Security Council in in June 2020.
At least 20 senior officials and staff are seen in the image with no social distancing or mask-wearing.
At the time, strict lockdown rules meant people were not permitted to leave their own county and indoor gatherings of more than seven people were banned.
People were being advised to work from home where possible and Government Return to Work guidelines encouraged people to maintain physical distancing and avoid face-to-face contact.
The Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said he was with the Taoiseach at the time, insisting that by the time he returned to his own department, there was no party and the officials were back at work.
The picture was taken by the then-secretary general of the department Niall Burgess – who is now Ireland's ambassador to France.
Minister Coveney has asked his new Secretary-General Joe Hackett to carry out an investigation into the gathering with a report expected by the end of the month.
On The Hard Shoulder this evening however, former Transport Minister Shane Ross said he was “very concerned” about the investigation.
“The Foreign Affairs Department is being investigated by the Foreign Affairs Department – and that is not my definition of independence,” he said.
“This is a serious matter because, as you know, people have been punished in very different ways or not punished at all for COVID offences.
“Some people seem to get off very lightly and some people seem to be punished severely.”
He said an independent investigation should now be carried out.
“In this case, we have a very strange situation where an investigation has eventually been ordered to be carried out by the Secretary General, who is only there a short time, into activities that went on which include, presumable, the minister himself, who is his boss, and his predecessor.
“It would have been far better to have a really credible inquiry into this. To pull in somebody from outside.
“It is not credible. It is not credible at all. When you call in the head of the department to investigate the minister and many other senior civil servants who he meets every day and knows well and probably has known for many, many years.”
Mr Ross said Minister Coveney is a “very fine minister and very fine person in many ways” but questioned whether he had been in power too long.
“He has now been there for ten years and you get to a mood of kind of presumption and it goes to your head a bit,” he said.
“What I think has happened here is, he has assumed that things are alright because it has always been alright. You get to a position where people bow and scrape to you and treat you like someone who is very powerful, which you probably are, and I think he has probably been there for too long.
“He assumed that what was going on in Foreign Affairs was OK and it wasn’t. I think that has happened to him twice.
“I am not saying he should resign or anything, but it should be warning to us. Those who have been in power for as long as that, it does go to their head and they do presume they are privileged in a way that other people are not and that they have a right to do things other people haven’t.”