Covid guidelines at time of Zappone event lacked ‘clarity’ - Taoiseach

Micheál Martin makes first public comment about Merrion Hotel event

Taoiseach, Micheál Martin said ‘personal responsibility’ was important in the context of the pandemic. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Taoiseach, Micheál Martin said ‘personal responsibility’ was important in the context of the pandemic. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said there were shortcomings of “clarity and consistency” in guidelines relating to the 50-person gathering organised by former minister Katherine Zappone in the grounds of the Merrion Hotel.

In his first intervention in the controversy surrounding the event - which was attended by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Labour TD Ivana Bacik - the Taoiseach said that regulations were not breached but that guidelines were not clear about the status of such events.

Mr Martin, in a statement, also observed that the Tánaiste had “expressed his regret at attending the Merrion Hotel outdoor event”.

Until the Attorney General Paul Gallagher clarified this week that outdoor events attended by up to 200 people were permitted within the Covid-19 regulations, industry representatives such as the Restaurant Association of Ireland were unaware that was the case. In addition, the guidelines published by Fáilte Ireland did not include those details.

The Taoiseach said: “While the event did not breach regulations, the Government accepts that further clarity and consistency on guidelines was required”.

He said “personal responsibility” would be a key factor in the coming months.

Vaccines

Turning to the vaccination campaign, Mr Martin said the uptake of the vaccine against Covid-19 in Ireland was one of the highest anywhere in the world.

“The key data illustrates the powerful impact of vaccines in protecting us from serious illness, hospitalisations, pressure on ICUs and mortality. Over 80 per cent of those in ICUs are unvaccinated.

“That is why it is so important that when offered a vaccine, people take them up, to protect themselves and others.”

He said the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 has been a significant concern over the past month but that vaccination was essential.

Mr Martin said he was “very conscious” that a number of sectors of society have yet to reopen or have faced severe restrictions.

He promised that before the end of the month, the Government would be presenting what he called “a comprehensive road map” outlining how it intends to reopen the remainder of society and manage Covid-19 during the winter period.

“Because of the high vaccination rates which will be attained by then, the approach will be different.”

“The reopening of schools is a priority, as well as the return of students to further and higher education campuses,” he said.

Regular meetings of the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 are to be held throughout August, he said.

Public anger

Jack Chambers, the Government Chief Whip and Minister of State for Sport, said he welcomed Mr Varadkar’s apology.

“I think we acknowledge and appreciate the frustration and the public anger around the events over the last number of days,” the Fianna Fáil TD told RTÉ Radio One this afternoon.

It had not been a good week for the Government, and the public’s perception of it had become quite negative, Mr Chambers added.

“He came out in a very frank way. He apologised directly to the industry, he outlined how he let his guard down, and I welcome that.”

When asked why the former minister for agriculture, Dara Calleary, had to resign after attending the infamous Golfgate event in Clifden in Co Galway last summer, Mr Chambers said the two events were different.

“As you know, the event in Galway, there is currently a court case around that event in particular,” he added.

Mr Chambers said the Government would publish a new roadmap on living with Covid in the next few weeks, and it appreciated the public’s sacrifice over the past few months.

The new roadmap would be less about legal regulations and more focused on personal responsibility, according to Mr Chambers.

A return of the live music and events sector’s would be outlined in this new plan, along with the full reopening of the education sector and indoor sports.