Green TD apologises for AG's intervention on Covid rules, admits past week has been a 'mess'

Green TD apologises for AG's intervention on Covid rules, admits past week has been a 'mess'

The outdoor gathering which took place at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin last month was attended by friends and former colleagues of Zappone. File Picture: PA

A Government TD has apologised after the Attorney General advised that coronavirus regulations “provide for organised outdoor events and gatherings up to 200 people” following a controversial 50-person function hosted by Katherine Zappone.

Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan said while the Attorney General was "technically correct" it had sent out the wrong message and was not in "the spirit"of the public health advice.

The intervention came on a day of controversy for the Government, after it emerged former Minister Katherine Zappone had hosted a private 50-person function at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin last month attended by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and newly elected Labour Party TD Ivana Bacik.

Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan said she was sorry for the past week
Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan said she was sorry for the past week

Fáilte Ireland guidelines in place at the time suggested organised events, whether indoor or outdoor, were not permitted unless they were weddings or “non-social meetings, training and educational programmes considered essential to the operation of a business."

However, Attorney General Paul Gallagher advised the Government yesterday that parties of up to 200 people are in fact permitted outdoors.

In a statement, the Government’s press office said updates will now be made to the guidelines “to ensure that people have clarity about how organised outdoor events may operate into the future”.

It is understood Fáilte Ireland is to meet Government officials today to update its guidelines on the operation of outdoor events.

Ms Hourigan said she was "very sorry for the last week" admitting it had been "a bit of a mess."

“I have to say the thing I’m sorriest about is the intervention of the Attorney General yesterday. I think that was incredibly unhelpful."

“I think the message that has gone out now is that it’s OK for 200 people to get together in a field and have a party.”

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, the Green Party TD said "the only way we’ve managed to do things over the last 18 months is through consent, and through the cooperation of people.

“I think that the intervention last night implies a message that it’s OK now, we can all get together. The reality is that we’re at 1,300 cases and it’s the wrong message to send out.”

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Health David Cullinane said it appears as though the Government is attempting to "retrospectively interpret the guidelines to get the Tánaiste off the hook for being at an event that he should not have been at."

“I don't believe that anybody in government can seriously suggest that they felt from the June Bank Holiday weekend onwards that people could have an organised social event outdoors in a hotel or bar for up to 200 people.

“When you look at the [current] guidelines from Fáilte Ireland, it makes it clear that you can't book multiple tables, and non-social events can only happen."

Speaking to RTÉ Radio's Morning Ireland, Deputy Cullinane also questioned how could it be that the Tánaiste, who himself negotiated guidelines with the hospitality industry, then had to check with the hotel whether the event was in line with guidelines.

"None of this makes sense."

The chief executive of the Restaurants’ Association of Ireland has also questioned if the event had not taken place "when would the Hospitality industry have known the maximum capacity for an outdoor event was 200?"

Talking to Newstalk Breakfast, Adrian Cummins said he believes the industry is owed an apology.

"We didn't know that until yesterday, until the Attorney General made the announcement."

Mr Cummins said he was glad the guidelines had been updated, but that in the meantime the sector had lost a lot of business. 

“We are disappointed that it took an event for 50 people to bring this announcement around.” 

The guidelines from Fáilte Ireland were not clear, he said, and there has been "a lot of confusion over the last number of days."

We have always been instructed to look at the Fáilte Ireland guidelines, but it wasn't there.” 

“There's a lot of businesses that have turned away a lot of business over the last number of weeks because they did not know, through the Fáilte Ireland guidelines, that they could have up to 200 people at an outdoor event.

“I think we need to move forward, I think Fáilte Ireland needs to correct the guidelines this morning - and I think somebody needs to say sorry to our industry that has been economically flattened since last March,” he said.

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