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'Safe but spectacular': Council planning for Kellie Harrington's Dublin homecoming

The boxer will come back from the Olympics next week with at least a silver medal.

Ireland's Kellie Anne Harrington celebrates victory over Thailand's Sudaporn Seesondee  on Thursday
Ireland's Kellie Anne Harrington celebrates victory over Thailand's Sudaporn Seesondee on Thursday
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

COUNCILLORS IN DUBLIN want to arrange a “safe but spectacular” homecoming for Kellie Anne Harrington next week.

The boxer is guaranteed to return to Ireland with at least a silver medal – possibly gold – from the Olympics in Japan.

Harrington, who is from Portland Row in the north inner city, made it through to Sunday’s lightweight final in Tokyo after today’s semi-final win over Thai boxer Suadporn Seesondee.

Sunday’s final, taking place at around 6am Irish time, will not be broadcast on big screens in public spaces in Dublin due to Covid-19 concerns.

However, Dublin City Council is making preparations for Harrington’s homecoming later in the week. A spokesperson for DCC told The Journal the council is “delighted and proud to see how well” Harrington is performing at the Olympic Games.

“Her friends, neighbours, and the local community are understandably keen for the city to mark her wonderful achievement. Dublin City Council is currently exploring what, if anything, can be done to facilitate this.

“Any celebration would have to fully comply with Covid-19 public health restrictions. Unfortunately there can be no formal civic reception on this occasion,” a statement noted.

Nial Ring, a local councillor and former Lord Mayor, said the fact the fight will not be shown in public areas “will disappoint many local residents but they understand that the risks far outweigh the benefits”.

“We would love to have a big outdoor event, but we realise that this could be a Covid risk and we don’t want anything to take away from Kellie’s magnificent achievement,” Ring said in a statement today.

Ring added that Dublin City Council has provided banners and posters to Harrington’s neighbours in recent weeks and is “committed to a safe but spectacular homecoming for our Olympic medallist early next week”.

The independent councillor criticised the fact the final will not be screened in public places, while 50 people including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last month attended an event organised by former minister Katherine Zappone on the grounds of a Dublin hotel.

“It may be alright for the rich and famous to throw a bash in the Merrion Hotel without worrying about the consequences, but here in the north inner city we look out for one another,” he said.

Zappone, Varadkar and hotel management have all said the event was compliant with Covid guidelines.

Ring also noted that Harrington works in a hospital herself and “would be acutely aware” of the risks associated with large gatherings.

“I know Kellie would be devastated if someone contracted Covid or was hurt in any way at an event associated with her. I spoke with residents on Portland Row who, while disappointed, understand that this is a risk not worth taking.”

Mini festival

Green Party councillor Hazel Chu told The Journal that while a large celebration for members of the public – such as the one held in Bray in 2012 for Katie Taylor when she arrived home with her Olympic gold medal – won’t be possible, smaller events could be held around the capital.

Chu, who was Dublin’s Lord Mayor until June, has suggested that the council could arrange a “mini festival” for Harrington, her family and friends in an outdoor location in the city such as Merrion Square.

“This is the problem we had last year with the six in a row, we couldn’t have [a big public event],” Chu said, referencing Dublin winning their sixth consecutive All Ireland men’s football final.

“What we had there was outdoor signage and some celebrations whereas now – since we are allowed to have people in certain spaces – I think there should be small gatherings, even if it’s just for Kellie and her family to highlight that it’s a massive achievement.

“So instead of fans coming along to celebrate, it’s actually celebrating her and other Olympians and saying ‘thanks a million for representing the country’.”

Chu noted that a number of successful pilot concerts and other gatherings have been held in recent weeks, and that smaller events could be held for members of the public to celebrate Harrington and other athletes.

“Restaurants are now open, we have festivals or music concerts being piloted, so you could plan to have small events around the city to celebrate different athletes. I would really love to see Kellie Harrington celebrated.

“We could have a celebration, a kind of a mini festival, for Olympians to invite their families, somewhere like Merrion Square.”

Chu said she understands why many people are annoyed by the government’s defence this week of the event organised by Zappone on 21 July.

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“I find the whole debacle in the last 24 hours so ridiculous. If the council said ‘due to public health concerns, we can’t risk it’, that’s fair. But, if other events are happening safely, a smaller homecoming event can be arranged.

“The government has a lot to answer for in terms of what they’ve promoted in the last two days. You can’t have one set of rules for some people, and another set of rules for others,” Chu said.

Zappone announced yesterday that she will not take up the role of UN Special Envoy on Freedom of Opinion and Expression amid controversy over the role itself and an event hosted by the former minister at the Merrion Hotel.

The saga unleashed a slew of criticism from opposition parties, representatives from industry groups and religious leaders.

It also saw a surprising intervention from the Attorney General, leading to the extraordinary situation yesterday evening where the government appeared to decide that outdoor events of up to 200 people are actually allowed under the current guidelines – at odds with previous comments.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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