Irish Hotels Federation was awaiting clarification on new guidelines at time of golf dinner

Organisation says it believed event complied with guidelines under protocol agreed with Department of Tourism

The Station House Hotel in Clifden where the golf dinner was held said  it “wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise the hotel or the people dining”.

The Station House Hotel in Clifden where the golf dinner was held said it “wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise the hotel or the people dining”.

 

The Irish Hotels Federation has said it was awaiting clarification from the Government on updated guidelines for the hosting of functions in hotels announced last Tuesday at the time a controversial dinner was hosted by the Oireachtas Golf Society in a hotel in Connemara on Wednesday.

The IHF indicated it believed that the event, which led to the resignation of the Minister for Agriculture, Dara Calleary, complied with Government guidelines under a protocol agreed with the Department of Tourism.

In a statement issued on Friday, the IHF said current guidelines around capacity at an indoor event were “clear” and permitted a maximum of 50 people at any one time including hotel staff and other event support workers.

Although that condition pertained at the time the event was first organised, stricter guidelines were announced by the government on Tuesday which stated that “no formal or informal events or parties should be organised” in hotels, with the exception of weddings.

The Oireachtas Golf Society’s 50th anniversary dinner at the Station House Hotel in Clifden, Co Galway was attended by 81 guests split between two rooms separated by a partition with 45 diners in one room and 36 in the other.

The IHF said it had sought clarification on the updated measures announced on Tuesday from Government officials.

The organisation said it had advised its members at the time that the “status quo” in terms of operational procedures remained in place until further notice as part of an agreed protocol with the department with responsibility for tourism.

“Multiple gatherings are allowed in venue facilities provided they are in separate defined spaces and there are systems to prevent intermingling in common spaces like entrances, exits and toilet facilities,” the IHF said.

The IHF said it was the responsibility of individual hotels to ensure compliance with published operational guidelines.

“We encourage all hotels to ensure that they are fully compliant with the operational guidelines,” it added.

In a second statement on Friday the IHF said it had received “interim guidance” from Fáilte Ireland on Friday afternoon which set out the new measures restricting indoor gatherings to six people and outdoor events to 15, with the exception of weddings where the maximum permitted number is 50.

The federation said it was expecting additional guidance on “urgent points of clarification” next week.

It observed that the guidelines which were developed by Fáilte Ireland were “detailed and complex and evolve with changing public health advice”.

The IHF said there was an established process that the Department of Tourism circulated guidelines following the announcement of any changes to existing restrictions.

The federation did not respond to a series of further questions put to it by The Irish Times seeking further comment on its attitude to the use of partitions to circumvent the limit on numbers attending single events.

The main organiser of the golf dinner, Donie Cassidy, a former Fianna Fáil senator and president of the Oireachtas Golf Society, was not contactable. However an informed source said Mr Cassidy had advised guests that the hotel had sought advice and were content that the event could proceed while operating within Government guidelines.

A person staying at the hotel with his family told The Irish Times he saw no evidence of social distancing when he witnessed the attendees arriving.

“No masks. No distancing,” said the witness who asked that his name not be used.

One of the attendees at the Oireachtas Golf Society event, a county councillor, said he had personally asked the hotel’s manager about arrangements and had been informed that the function was in compliance with Government guidelines.

“He said they have been reassured by the Irish Hotels Federation that everything was OK,” the councillor said.

He added: “If we had a whiff that we were not in compliance with the guidelines, there would have been a rush out the door.”

The councillor insisted that only “three to four per cent of the partition” was open between the two rooms, while the only people passing through it were a few recipients of prizes.

According to the Station House Hotel, its management liaised with the IHF prior to the event and were advised to ensure that there were no more than 50 in a room at any one time.

“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,” it added.