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Varadkar insists Merrion event was lawful and was probably within Fáilte guidelines

It’s the first time the Tánaiste has spoken publicly since it was revealed he attended Zappone’s 50-person gathering in July.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said that he regrets attending the event at The Merrion hotel on 21 July organised by former minister Katherine Zappone, but added that the event was lawful and “probably” within the Fáilte Ireland guidelines.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Six One News for the first time since the details of the event emerged on Wednesday, Varadkar said that the Covid-19 regulations weren’t breached at the event, and that the guidelines were “probably” not breached, but he admitted they were “ambiguous”.

From 5 July, 200 attendees were permitted at a majority of ‘organised’ outdoor events, and 500 could attend venues with a minimum capacity of 5,000. It was unclear whether this meant a person could organise a gathering of up to 200 people until now.

The Attorney General has said that the event didn’t breach restrictions, but it has been suggested that the event did breach the guidelines in place for the hospitality sector – including by a Fine Gael senator last night.

“The event was not in breach of the government regulations at the time, and probably wasn’t in breach of the Fáilte Ireland guidelines,” the Minister for Enterprise said this evening.

When questioned on the his use of ‘probably’, Varadkar said that tables couldn’t be booked indoors, but there was no guidance on what could happen outdoors.

That’s the difficulty. They weren’t clear, and they have changed twice actually since then, they’ve changed 35 times since the pandemic began, and were largely silent on outdoor events.

“They said at the time that you couldn’t book two tables indoors, but didn’t say anything about outdoors, and that’s one of the reasons why we clarified those guidelines today.”

Varadkar said that he “probably let his guard down”, despite checking with Zappone and the hotel ahead of time, and said that he does understand that the guidelines are confusing.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson David Cullinane said Varadkar’s interview on RTÉ was “to protect his own position”.

It will have done little to change the belief of many people that the hospitality guidelines have been amended to give cover to Varadkar for his attendance at a Merrion Hotel bash that he simply should not have attended.

The interview follows after a junior minister admitted that the new pandemic guidelines for the hospitality industry were prompted by the controversial event at The Merrion hotel.

Junior Minister Malcolm Noonan told Newstalk’s The Hard Shoulder: “Certainly the the event at the Merrion Hotel has probably sparked some clarification.

“There had certainly been perhaps some level of confusion around the level of complexity that was there around the guidelines previously.”

The rules, which were updated today, mean 200 people can now gather at an outdoor event with live music.

The change comes in the wake of the Katherine Zappone controversy, in which she organised a private party for 50 people last month, days before she was nominated as a UN special envoy for freedom of opinion and expression.

The event was held at The Merrion hotel in Dublin and was attended by friends and former Government colleagues. Among those in attendance was Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who said that he was only there for 45 minutes.

Zappone announced that she would decline the UN envoy role after details of the event emerged.

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With reporting from the Press Association.

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