Elaine Loughlin: How do we navigate farcical Covid guidelines?

It is all a matter of interpretation, something our politicians seem to be very skilled at
Elaine Loughlin: How do we navigate farcical Covid guidelines?

Our ministers, senior civil servants, and politicians have turned up at all sorts of apparently permitted soirées.

What's the difference between exercise and training and when does enjoying a spot of outdoor hospitality with friends turn into an organised event?

This is not some sort of cryptic brain-tease with a clever answer, it's the type of information you now need to know to navigate the almost farcical Covid guidelines on social and sporting events.

Our ministers, senior civil servants, and politicians have solved the riddle though, and have turned up at all sorts of apparently permitted soirées.

"Covid loves to party," was a phrase that came back to haunt Dara Calleary in the wake of the Golfgate scandal, but now it appears the virus skips some celebrations.

In defending his attendance at a party hosted by former children's minister Katherine Zappone in the exclusive Merrion Hotel, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he confirmed in advance directly, 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," Mr Varadkar said. 

"Everyone was sitting at their tables in tables of six," said one attendee, adding that staff escorted guests to vacant seats where they enjoyed drinks and canapes.

"It was billed as a thank-you event that she didn't get to have last summer for obvious reasons because we were in lockdown."

The Irish Examiner has also revealed that Green Party candidate Claire Byrne has also hosted an event in recent days, this time at the Merrion Cricket Grounds to thank those who canvassed for her in her recent failed by-election bid.

Minister Eamon Ryan strongly defended his presence at the party, with a spokesperson stating he "attended an outdoor event at a sports club last week to thank those who campaigned in the recent by-election".

"The health regulations allow for outdoor gatherings involving up to 200 people for a variety of reasons including social and community purposes.” 

It was clear that those within Government were scrambling when a notice was issued at 5.07pm with a clarification from the attorney general on the current Covid regulations that provide for organised outdoor events.

It stipulated that a “relevant event” means a gathering of up to 200 people held "for social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community reason".

But this does not include an event to be held in a dwelling, a wedding reception, a sporting event, or a training event.

I'll admit, competing in the Olympics has never been on my radar, and I don't have what it takes to tog out in Croke Park, but deciphering the difference between "exercise" which is permitted and "training" which is not, really has me flummoxed.

The guidelines also suggest that you could have an outdoor divorce party with 200 guests, just not a wedding.

You could even argue that the afters of a Communion is permitted outdoors, but not the actual ceremony part.

Of course, this is all a matter of interpretation, something our politicians seem to be very skilled at.

What is certain is their actions will now open the floodgates to people holding everything from large-scale birthday parties to retirement dos. 

And while we’re at it, that hip replacement you got done … why don’t you invite 200 of your nearest and dearest down to the local sports club to celebrate?

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