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left in the dark Backlash from pubs and restaurants over lost earnings after advice on big events

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Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

The Government is facing an angry backlash from the hospitality industry for leaving it in the dark for more than a month on rules which would have allowed businesses to host large outdoor parties, raising significant revenue.

It comes as Government officials scramble to draft new outdoor dining guidelines to save Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s career after it emerged he attended a party of 50 guests hosted by former minister Katherine Zappone.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has not been heard from since the crisis over Ms Zappone’s party and her subsequent decision not to take the job of special envoy.

There has also been silence from his Cabinet ministers, including Mr Varadkar who only issued a brief statement on his attendance at the controversial party.

However, HSE chief executive Paul Reid intervened to ask the public to ignore the “confusion” and “frustration” caused by Ms Zappone’s party in the Merrion Hotel and “keep their guard up”.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan also asked people to “risk assess” their weekend plans after the Government announced parties of 200 people could be hosted outdoors. He said the virus “doesn’t care if we are fed up, it only sees the opportunity to spread from person to person when we let our guard down”.

The Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 is to meet today and it is expected the fiasco surrounding outdoor parties will be discussed. The ongoing row over communions and confirmations may also be discussed with some indications the ceremonies might be permitted in September.

It has also emerged the Government’s only publicity on easing restrictions for outdoor events made no reference to social gatherings.

A press release published in late May on reopening plans for the summer said 200 attendees would be permitted at organised outdoor events in July. It said the rules applied to “culture and arts, training, sports events/matches”.

However, Attorney General Paul Gallagher has said regulations introduced last month allow social gatherings of up to 200 people outdoors.

Mr Gallagher’s legal advice was yesterday heavily criticised by Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan.

Speaking on Newstalk, Ms Hourigan apologised for the Attorney General’s “incredibly unhelpful” intervention.

Ms Hourigan said the AG was “technically correct”, but it was not in the spirit of the public health advice and had sent out the message “that it’s OK for 200 people to get together in a field and have a party”.

The extraordinary comments came as Restaurants Association of Ireland chief executive Adrian Cummins accused the Government of doing his members out of money by not telling them they could host large outdoor parties for up to 200 people.

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Mr Cummins has spent the last month telling restaurant owners they could not host large events outdoors as this is what was stated in the Fáilte Ireland guidelines for the industry.

“Hospitality businesses have lost a huge amount of revenue due to confusion over guidelines,” he said.

A source in the pub trade said publicans were also taken aback by the news that they had been permitted to host parties of up to 200 people since July.

“Publicans have been turning people away from their premises because they have been showing up in big groups looking for multiple tables,” a source said.

The Irish Hotels Federation said it welcomed the clarification provided by the Attorney General on outdoor events.

Last night, the Department of Health, the Department of Tourism and Fáilte Ireland were drafting new guidelines to match the Attorney General’s advice. The new guidelines are expected to be published today.

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