Irish Hotels Federation says it sought Department advice on indoor gatherings prior to golf event

The organisation is “expecting additional guidance on urgent points of clarification early next week”.

LAST UPDATE | Aug 21st 2020, 5:50 PM

THE IRISH HOTELS Federation has said it sought clarification from the Department of Tourism on indoor gatherings prior to the controversial Oireachtas Golf Society event in Co Galway earlier this week. 

It said it advised all its members that “the status quo remains in terms of current operational procedures for hotels until further notice”, in line with the protocol agreed with the department. 

The Clifden Station House Hotel confirmed that it hosted the Oireachtas Golf Society over two nights, Tuesday and Wednesday, but only catered for the 81 attendees on Wednesday in “two completely separate dining rooms”.

The hotel said it had liaised with the IHF before the event.

“There was a 45/36 split and we believe we were totally compliant with the guidelines and above board in everything we did. We liaised with the IHF prior to this and were advised to ensure that we had no more than 50 in a room at any one time,” a statement issued to Virgin Media News read.

“We would never try to exceed the guidelines. We wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise the hotel or the people dining. This is not something we take lightly.”

In a second statement, sent at 4.45pm today, the IHF said it had received interim guidance this afternoon from Fáilte Ireland. 

That guidance related to “businesses serving food and gatherings, including the restriction of gatherings to six people indoors and 15 people outdoors with weddings for up to 50 people including staff exempt”. 

It said: “Throughout this pandemic we have worked closely with the Government including the Department of Tourism and Failte Ireland to ensure robust procedures are in place to safeguard public health in line with evolving Government advice.

“The IHF provides guidance on the operational guidelines that are in place as they pertain to the hotel and guest house sector. The operational guidelines, which were developed by Failte Ireland in collaboration with the IHF are detailed and complex, and evolve with changing public health advice.  

“There is an established process in place for when changes are announced, whereby the Department of Tourism circulates updated guidelines which take account of the queries or points of clarification raised by organizations such as the IHF following the initial announcement. In relation to Tuesday’s announcement we sought clarification on a number of issues from the Department of Tourism.”

It added: “We are expecting additional guidance on urgent points of clarification early next week.”

On Tuesday, the government unveiled a range of fresh guidance on social gatherings and sport, as well as powers to enforce public health measures following concerns about a spike in the number of cases of the coronavirus in recent weeks.

The mass gatherings section of the new guidance outlines that indoor gatherings and events are now limited to six people from no more than three households. However, there is an exception for weddings for the time being. 

Prior to Tuesday, up to 50 people have been permitted to attend indoor weddings, guidelines which now remains in place as the government said they wish to review the matter.

A spokesperson for the Department of Tourism said that compliance is “the responsibility of each individual business”. 

“As per all changes relating to Covid-19 restrictions, formal guidelines are issued to the tourism sector following extensive consultations between Fáilte Ireland, the Department of Health and stakeholders. Initial key measures were shared with the sector today and detailed guidelines will be available on the Fáilte Ireland website early next week,” the spokesperson added. 

In its initial statement today, the IHF said it sought clarification on a number of issues from the Department of Tourism following Tuesday’s announcement.  

“In line with the protocol agreed with the Department, we advised all members that the status quo remains in terms of current operational procedures for hotels until further notice. The current guidelines around capacity at an indoor event are clear. They permit a maximum of 50 people at any one time including hotel staff and any other event support workers.

Multiple gatherings are allowed in venue facilities provided they are in separate defined spaces and there are systems to prevent intermingling in common spaces (e.g. entrances, exits and toilet facilities).  We are expecting that the updated operational guidelines will be published by Failte Ireland and the Department of Tourism early next week.

“Compliance with the published operational guidelines is the responsibility of each individual hotel. We encourage all hotels to ensure that they are fully compliant with the operational guidelines.” 

EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan, who was among a number of politicians who attended the event in Galway on Wednesday night, said he was assured by the organisers that the arrangements in place complied with the government’s public health guidelines.

In a series of tweets defending his attendance Hogan said: “I attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner on Wednesday on the clear understanding that the organisers and the hotel concerned had been assured [by the Irish Hotels’ Federation] that the arrangements put in place would be in compliance with the government’s guidelines.”

An Garda Síochána have since launched an investigation into the controversial function.  The event appears to have breached public health guidelines, which state that no events, parties or gatherings involving more than six people should be held indoors.

Eighty-one people are said to have attended the event, with the room divided into two. The Irish Examiner, which first reported the story, alleged that up to 10 people were seated at a table.

Supreme Court Judge Seamus Woulfe said he was of the impression that the organisers of the event had made sure that the dinner would be in compliance with the regulations.

He said any breach of the regulations by him was unintended. He said that he regrets his attendance at the dinner.

Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary and Leas Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Jerry Buttimer have already resigned after it emerged they had attended this event.

Micheál Martin has removed the Fianna Fáil party whip from Senators Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt and Niall Blaney while Tánaiste and Leo Varadkar removed three Fine Gael senators from the party whip who were also in attendance on Wednesday.

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