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In wake of Zappone hotel controversy, Government says outdoor events of up to 200 can take place

It comes in the wake of reports that former Minister Katherine Zappone held a large social event outdoors at Dublin’s Merrion Hotel.

The Merrion Hotel in Dublin
The Merrion Hotel in Dublin
Image: Sam Boal

THE GOVERNMENT HAS confirmed that Covid-19 regulations provide for organised outdoor events, including social events, of up to 200 people.

The Attorney General has advised the Government that social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community events outdoors fall under this category and are legally allowed. 

The Government moved to release a media statement clarifying the regulations after confirmation that former Minister Katherine Zappone held a large social event outdoors prior to being appointed UN special envoy for freedom of expression.

Today, the Irish Independent reported that six days before her appointment, Zappone held a gathering of 50 people at the Merrion Hotel, which is located across the road from Government Buildings, which the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar attended.

Some opposition TDs had raised questions whether the gathering was within Covid guidelines, but the hotel has insisted that everything was above board and Zappone herself said in a statement earlier that she had been assured by the hotel that public health guidelines were being followed.

The publication of the story increased the focus on Zappone’s appointment as UN special envoy, and she released a statement hours later saying that she would decline the role.

The Government confirmed today that organised outdoor events of up to 200 people can take place. 

“Further updates will be made to the guidelines to ensure that people have clarity about how organised outdoor events may operate into the future,” a statement said. 

Earlier today, Zappone had said she was “assured” by the Merrion Hotel that the event she recently organised was in compliance with Covid-19 restrictions.

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It is understood the Tánaiste had also checked a number of times if the event was compliant with guidelines before attending. 

The current Fáilte Ireland guidelines state that organised events at hotels and guesthouses are not permitted, however up to 200 people have been allowed attend outdoor events since early July. 

The Merrion said in a statement that it was in compliance with all guidelines in effect at the time.

The hotel said: “At all times since the start of the pandemic, The Merrion Hotel has adhered to Government public health measures including the relevant guidelines that were in place at the time of the event on July 21st.

“Regulations in place at that time, as published on Gov.ie, allowed for outdoor events of up to 200 people.

In relation to hotel guidelines published by Fáilte Ireland, there have been significant changes to these since the event on 21st July – the version of the Guidelines that were in place at that time made no reference to outdoor organised events.

Religious events

The clarification from the Government comes as it faces calls over restrictions relating to communions and confirmations

The Archbishop of Dublin has written to his priests indicating that they can proceed with confirmations and first holy communions, despite public health advice to the contrary.

Dermot Farrell, leader of the largest Catholic diocese in Ireland, hit out at what he called “discriminatory” Covid-19 guidelines.

Public health guidelines advise that baptisms, communions and confirmations should not currently take place, with baptisms allowed to go ahead from 5 August.

It is understood that preparations for communions and confirmations took place during the year in many primary schools. 

Many primary school children would have received their religious instruction for the ceremonies in advance of a date being set.

However, most of the preparations would have taken place in schools and there would have been few visits to churches.

On Tuesday, minister Charlie McConalogue asked churches to follow the public health advice and to hold off on hosting the ceremonies.

However the Archbishop urged priests to proceed with the sacraments if they “consider it safe” and suggests “shorter, simpler and smaller ceremonies”.

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