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Green light Outdoor events with up to 200 allowed as Katherine Zappone resigns amid ‘party’ fiasco

The shock announcement came only an hour after Ms Zappone resigned following a week of controversy over Fine Gael’s farcical attempt to appoint her as a special envoy for freedom of expression and opinion.

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Pressure: Former minister Katherine Zappone said criticism of the appointment process had impacted the legitimacy of the role. Photo: Collins

Pressure: Former minister Katherine Zappone said criticism of the appointment process had impacted the legitimacy of the role. Photo: Collins

Pressure: Former minister Katherine Zappone said criticism of the appointment process had impacted the legitimacy of the role. Photo: Collins

The Government has made the astonishing decision to green-light outdoor parties of up to 200 people amid confusion over Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s attendance at a party organised by former minister Katherine Zappone.

The shock announcement came only an hour after Ms Zappone resigned following a week of controversy over Fine Gael’s farcical attempt to appoint her as a special envoy for freedom of expression and opinion.

Mr Varadkar and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney were both forced to embarrassingly admit they made mistakes in how they sought to give a newly-created taxpayer-funded job to their former cabinet colleague.

The former children’s minister said she was turning down the envoy role because “criticism of the appointment process has impacted the legitimacy of the role itself."

However, the more significant development in the ongoing fiasco was an intervention by Attorney General Paul Gallagher, who issued legal advice to the Government that now opens the door for people to hold massive outdoor parties.

The move means hotels, pubs and restaurants can host private parties for up to 200 people outdoors, despite continued concern among health officials over the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

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Attorney General Paul Gallagher. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Attorney General Paul Gallagher. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Attorney General Paul Gallagher. Photo: Kyran O'Brien


People wanting to hold birthday parties or other significant celebrations can book out entire beer gardens or outdoor dining areas for their guests.

The rules allowing outdoor parties have been in place since July 4, according to Mr Gallagher.

However, the advice from the Attorney General said wedding receptions of 200 people could not be held outdoors under the regulations.

Couples are still permitted to have only 100 guests at their wedding receptions from today.

The Attorney General’s advice on outdoor gatherings seemed to be in direct contradiction to Fáilte Ireland’s advice for the hospitality sector, which says organised events were prohibited in hotels, restaurants and pubs and customers are barred from booking multiple tables.

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Despite clearing the way for large outdoor parties, the Government conceded guidelines for the hospitality industry would have to be updated to “ensure that people have clarity about how organised outdoor events may operate into the future."

In his personal statement, Mr Varadkar also admitted the guidelines for outdoor parties had to be updated following the controversy surrounding his attendance at Ms Zappone’s party.

He confirmed he attended the event in the exclusive Merrion Hotel on July 21 and said he confirmed in advance with her and with the hotel management 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,” he said.

“I always strive to adhere to Covid restrictions, and as a public representative I try to be extra careful in that regard.

Earlier in the day, Ms Zappone told RTÉ’s News at One to contact the Merrion Hotel if they had any questions about her party.

“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,” she said.

She did not respond to queries from the Irish Independent.

The Merrion Hotel issued a statement saying the regulations in place on the night of Ms Zappone’s party permitted outdoor events of up to 200 people.

A spokesperson said the Fáilte Ireland guidelines made “no reference to outdoor organised events."

The hotel noted the most recent rules did not permit the booking of multiple tables.

Last night, Labour Party TD Ivana Bacik confirmed she attended Ms Zappone’s function in the one of the country’s poshest hotels.

“Deputy Bacik was briefly in attendance for approximately 15 to 20 minutes at an outdoor event organised by Katherine Zappone on 21st July,” a Labour Party spokesperson said.

“Deputy Bacik understood that the event was within government guidelines.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan’s chief of staff Donal Geoghegan also attended the event. A Green Party source said Mr Geoghegan attended for a short time and understood the event was in compliance with health regulations.

Department of Children secretary-general Dr Fergal Lynch and a number of his officials also attended the event.

The department stated that the Attorney General said 200 people were permitted at outdoor social gatherings and therefore the event was not in breach of the regulations.

“The department has no further comment on this matter,” a spokesperson said.

Yesterday, at a meeting between the hospitality industry and government officials, Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) chief executive Adrian Cummins asked on a number of occasions whether outdoor parties were permitted.

Sources at the meeting said officials told Mr Cummins that the “regulations have not changed” but would not give any further clarity.

After the meeting, the RAI chief issued a statement saying “the guidelines with regards to outdoors events have not changed”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s spokesperson would not respond to queries about the Tánaiste’s attendance at the party, despite increasing unrest within Fianna Fáil over the Zappone debacle.

Last week, Mr Martin said he wanted to move on from the controversy surrounding Ms Zappone.

Senior Fianna Fáil figures, including Barry Cowen and Timmy Dooley, have spoken out over how Ms Zappone’s appointment was handled as concerns grow within the party over the lack of respect shown to them by Fine Gael in government.

There was a chorus of opposition criticism of Mr Varadkar’s attendance at the Merrion Hotel party before and after the attorney general said outdoor parties are permitted under the regulations.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called for the guest list for the party to be made public. “The days of funding jobs for the boys and girls on the inside track with taxpayers’ money must come to an end,” she said.

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon described Ms Zappone’s party as “Galway Tent level of grubby.2

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said the Merrion Hotel party was a “jaw-dropping mix of hypocrisy and cronyism."

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