The Minister for Foreign Affairs has said it is clear that a breach of Covid-19 restrictions at his department in the summer of 2020 should not have happened.

However, Simon Coveney said it was important to concentrate on the context.

A report, published last night by the Secretary General at the Department of Foreign Affairs found a "serious breach" of social distancing rules had occurred at the gathering to mark Ireland's election to the UN Security Council, and recommended that senior officials make donations to charity.

The photograph of 20 departmental officials standing in a tight group, without masks, and with some holding champagne, caused offence, inflicted reputational damage on the department and undermined internal morale, according to the internal investigation.

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In his report, Foreign Affairs Secretary General Joe Hackett concluded his predecessor, and now Irish Ambassador to France Niall Burgess was "largely responsible".

Three other senior officials were put in a difficult position, but could have done more to prevent the serious breach of the rules.

Mr Hackett recommended that Mr Burgess pay €2,000 to a charity for Covid-19, and the three officials pay €1,000 - adding all four have agreed to do so.

He also concluded that the gathering was not planned, adding he found "no evidence" that public health guidance was breached when, well after the photograph had been taken, Minister Simon Coveney arrived to thank the officers.

Last night, Minister Coveney described the report as fair and balanced. He noted the conclusions and welcomed the actions being taken by the secretary general to improve procedures.

'A moment of carelessness and celebration'

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Coveney said that it was a moment of carelessness and celebration and lasted for about a minute.

But, he said that he can totally understand why people looking at the photograph would be annoyed.

He said he did not order an investigation or take action because he trusted his secretary general to deal with the matter.

Mr Coveney said he was told late that evening (after he had met the staff) that a photograph showing people celebrating had been tweeted out and later taken down.

He said the tweet had not been deleted at his request.

Mr Coveney also said that he saw the issue as the responsibility of the Secretary General, Niall Burgess, but acknowledged that, with the benefit of hindsight, he should have raised the matter directly with the Secretary General.

It was a very uncharacteristic mistake by a very senior leader in the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Minister said, adding that he saw it as a workplace mistake.

"This mistake was completely uncharacteristic. Niall Burgess had led the largest repatriation effort ever in the history of the State through the first few months of Covid, trying to get people home.

"Covid restrictions were taken very seriously in the department. And I think again, that's shown very clearly in the report," he said.

Minister Coveney said that the report's author, Joe Hackett, was the appropriate person to lead the review.

He pointed out that Mr Hackett was not involved in the incident and was not part of the UN team.

Any fair minded person who reads this report will see it as fair and accurate, he said.

Mr Coveney said he is accountable to the Dáil, Oireachtas committees and the media and he is happy to take any questions.

Calls for independent investigation into dept celebration

Sinn Féin has demanded that Taoiseach Micheál Martin establish an independent investigation into the celebration, because the internal review published last night had "no accountability".

The party's finance spokesperson said the events seriously call into question Mr Coveney's judgement, given the lack of action taken to initiate an investigation at the time.

Pearse Doherty has written to the Taoiseach to demand an independent examination into what took place - and Mr Coveney's decisions.

Also speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said that the internal review did not provide accountability because the role of the foreign affairs minister is absent.

Mr Doherty said that Simon Coveney "did nothing" on the night when he was alerted to the breach of Covid-19 restrictions and only set up an investigation to try to "bury" the issue when he was forced to.

Mr Doherty said Sinn Féin is not a lone voice in expressing concern about the review.

He said Joe Hackett did not interview Mr Coveney for the review because it was outside of his terms of reference.

Social Democrat TD for Dublin Central Gary Gannon said the incident at the DFA was a serious breach of restrictions and a slap in the face for those who were following Covid restrictions at the time.

Mr Gannon said Mr Coveney has been "quite evasive" about answering questions in relation to the incident over the last number of weeks.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, he said he wanted Simon Coveney and Joe Hackett to go before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and answer questions.

Depending on their answers, he said, there may be a call for an independent review.

Mr Gannon said he would like to know if other celebrations took place around that time.

He added that he wanted to know how the figure for the charitable donations were decided upon and why they are thought to be appropriate.