Irish politics today: focus on violence against women, NPHET meeting and champagne party after the Dáil returns

The Dáil returns on Wednesday as TDs and Senators return to Leinster House after the Christmas break.

The Cabinet will take place on Wednesday this week as Taoiseach Micheál Martin is expected to attend Ashling Murphy’s funeral on Tuesday morning.

Ahead of Cabinet on Wednesday, coalition leaders are expected to get an update on the current Covid-19 situation from public health chiefs.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald is due to kick off the leaders’ questions at 2pm on Wednesday.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

Ms. McDonald will also introduce a private member’s bill to the Dáil on Wednesday outlining changes the government must implement to eliminate violence against women and girls.

The motion sets out key policies needed to ensure these crimes are prevented and to end the tolerance of gender-based harassment and violence.

The murder of Ashling Murphy and the fight against violence against women should feature throughout the week.

Opposition leaders are also expected to quiz Mr Martin on housing and Covid-19.

On Tuesday the Oireachtas Foreign and Defense Committee will meet privately and it is understood that member TDs will ask Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney to appear before the committee to give a full account of events and of his handling of the controversial champagne party.

Minister Coveney ordered an investigation into a gathering of officials from his department in June 2020, following Ireland’s victory in the UN Security Council.

An image that was shared on social media at the time shows a number of officials from the Department’s United Nations Security Council campaign team gathered posing for a photo inside.

The gathering broke Covid rules at the time where people could only meet up to six other people outside their household, indoors and outdoors.

The DFA tweet showing the party

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he did not know if the celebrations constituted an unlawful assembly, adding that it was a matter of the gardaí and not the government.

The investigation will be led by the department’s new secretary general, Joe Hackett.

However, former minister Shane Ross has denounced Mr Hackett investigating the matter.

He tweeted: “Is the government serious?

“He is asking the Foreign Office Secretary to conduct an investigation into the behavior of the Minister, the last Secretary General and senior officials in his own department?

“How independent is this report?

“The minister is his boss.

“Independent necessary.”

The saga is also expected to feature prominently in the Dáil this week.

The NPHET will meet on Thursday and are expected to give updated advice to the government on Thursday evening on easing the current Covid restrictions.

Ministers expect a positive meeting with health chiefs and plan to get the green light to ease measures such as the 8pm closing time for pubs and restaurants.

Decisions will also be made to allow indoor events after 8 p.m., allowing for greater capacity at indoor and outdoor events.

NPHET will also consider the impact a return to offices and workplaces may have on the virus.

Senior government sources have said they would be surprised if the NPHET recommends that pubs can resume business during normal hours.

However, a minister said ‘it is quite clear that we are past the peak now and it is time to start reopening again’.

The source added: “NPHET will make recommendations but the government will ultimately decide.”

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