'Mistakes were made' over Zappone appointment, says Varadkar

'Mistakes were made' over Zappone appointment, says Varadkar

Former Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has announced she will not take up the role of UN Special Envoy on Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

Former minister for children Katherine Zappone has announced she will not take up the role of UN Special Envoy on Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

Ms Zappone's appointment has been mired in controversy since it was brought to Cabinet last week.

Today it was revealed that Ms Zappone had organised a private outdoor function at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin which took place six days before she was controversially appointed to the €15,000-a-year Special Envoy job without an open competition. 

The event was attended by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and 50 friends and former colleagues. 

Mr Varadkar says he accepts "mistakes were made" over Ms Zappone's appointment.

"On July 21st I attended an outdoor gathering on the grounds of the Merrion Hotel at the invitation of former Minister Dr Katherine Zappone," a statement said.

"I confirmed in advance directly with her, and with the hotel management on arrival, that the event was compliant with Covid regulations.

"I was present for about 45 minutes, spoke to Dr Zappone briefly and listened to her speech before returning to work. The event took place entirely outdoors.

I always strive to adhere to Covid restrictions and as a public representative I try to be extra careful in that regard. I am confident these regulations were not breached.

"I accept that mistakes were made in the manner in which Dr Zappone was appointed a special envoy and regret the controversy it’s caused."

Newly-elected Labour TD Ivana Bacik was among the attendees at Ms Zappone's private event, she has confirmed.

Ms Bacik, who recently won the Dublin Bay South by-election, said that she was "briefly in attendance" and that she believed that the event was within the public health guidelines.

Ms Zappone has defended hosting the private function for friends and former colleagues.

In a statement to RTÉ News, she said: "Please contact the Merrion Hotel for their statement regarding compliance with Government Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines for my private event.

Prior to organising the event I enquired, and was assured by the Merrion Hotel, that the event would be in compliance with government Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines.

Ms Zappone said this afternoon that she would not take the UN Special Envoy role as it would not be acceptable to all parties.

In a statement, she said: "While I am honoured to have been appointed by the Government to be the Special Envoy on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, it is clear that criticism of the appointment process has impacted the legitimacy of the role itself.

"It is my conviction that a Special Envoy role can only be of real value to Ireland and to the global community if the appointment is acceptable to all parties."

The Government this afternoon clarified that parties of 200 people can be organised if they take place outdoors.

A statement said that Attorney General Paul Gallagher has confirmed that parties can go ahead.

"The Government has been advised by the Attorney General that regulations provide for organised outdoor events and gatherings up to 200 people, including social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community events.

"Further updates will be made to the guidelines to ensure that people have clarity about how organised outdoor events may operate into the future."

It cites the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 S.I. No. 217/2021 which was signed by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly in May which says "relevant event means an event held, or to be held, for social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community reasons, but does not include – (a) an event to be held in a dwelling, (b) a wedding reception, (c) a sporting event, or (d) a training event;"

A spokesperson for the Merrion Hotel said that the event was within guidelines as no specific mention was made of outdoor events in Fáilte Ireland's document.

"At all times since the start of the pandemic, the Merrion hotel has adhered to Government public health measures including the relevant guidelines that were in place at the time of the event on July 21st. Regulations in place at that time, as published on Gov.ie, allowed for outdoor events of up to 200 people.

"In relation to hotel guidelines published by Fáilte Ireland, there have been significant changes to these since the event on 21st July – the version of the Guidelines that were in place at that time made no reference to outdoor organised events."

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