Sinn Féin's Matt Carthy has said there are "striking similarities" between last year's golfgate controversy and the private function hosted by Katherine Zappone for 50 people including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar two weeks ago
"There are striking similarities in terms of the rationale and excuses that are now being put forward," he said, adding that Mr Varadkar now needs to explain the context for him attending the event just six days before Ms Zappone was appointed to a special envoy role.
He also called on the Taoiseach to make a statement on the matter.
"The Taoiseach also needs to be upfront in terms of what accountability he's going to demand of the Tánaiste, of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and everybody who is involved in this debacle.
"We've seen too many of these crony-like appointments over the lifetime of this government, and this is blatant cronyism at its worst," said Mr Carthy.
The private outdoor function at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin took place six days before Ms Zappone was controversially appointed to the €15,000-a-year Special Envoy job without an open competition.
Under current Fáilte Ireland guidelines, organised events, whether indoor or outdoor, are not permitted unless they are weddings or “non-social meetings, training and educational programmes considered essential to the operation of a business".
Ms Zappone has defended hosting the private function for friends and former colleagues. In a statement to, 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 organizing 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."
In a statement, the Merrion Hotel said government regulations at the time of the event allowed for outdoor events "of up to 200 people, and the definition of that includes social events."
Around 50 guests were seated separately at tables of six in the Merrion Hotel’s Garden Terrace, according to the Irish Independent.
It is understood the Tánaiste contacted the Hotel to check whether the event was in line with the Government’s guidelines for the hospitality sector prior to attending the event.
The chief executive of the Restaurants' Association of Ireland has said the organisation will be seeking clarification regarding outdoor gatherings within hospitality venues following today's reports.
Speaking to RTÉ's Today show, Adrian Cummins said, as he understood the guidelines, multiple tables could not be booked under the current guidelines.
However, he said he was sure the Merrion Hotel acted in "good faith" and if a mistake had been made “so be it.”
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said the Tánaiste's behaviour is a "jaw dropping mix of hypocrisy and cronyism."
“Right now not all partners are allowed to attend births and key maternity appointments with mothers. Children around the country are being denied First Holy Communions and Confirmations. Funerals and weddings remain restricted.
“Yet the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar sees fit to attend a social event with 50 guests organised by Katherine Zappone before his Government gifts her a plum job."
Deputy Tóibín said there is a "clear precedent here."
"Phill Hogan and Dara Calleary both fell on their swords when they broke Covid guidelines. Indeed the Tánaiste himself was not shy in telling Hogan that he had to go.
"After the leaking of a confidential report to a friend, if the Tánaiste refuses the same fate for himself that he dictated to Hogan, Calleary and the FG Senators, it will prove that the rules don’t apply to him”.
Speaking tothis morning, Fine Gael TD for Cork North Central, Colm Burke, said he's "not sure" where there would have been a breach of guidelines with such an event.
"My understanding is that it was an outdoor event and Leo Varadkar checked with the hotel [that the event was in line with Government guidelines]."
However, Sinn Féin Matt Carthy said he doesn't see how the "circumstances, the rationale or the excuses provided change in much ways from what happened in the Clifden Hotel twelve months ago."
"Essentially there was an attempt to beat the regulations by people who put in place the regulations in the first instance.
"So I think this goes way beyond Katherine Zappone at this stage".
Yesterday, thereported that Mr Carthy has written to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) requesting it examine the financial implications of the appointment of Ms Zappone as UN special envoy.
It is understood that under the terms of her appointment, Ms Zappone is entitled to:
- A salary for up to a maximum of 60 days a year worth €15,000;
- International travel and hotel stays paid for by the taxpayer;
- Access to a secretary