Government ‘politicising’ AG role in relation to outdoor gatherings – Dooley

Timmy Dooley says efforts made ‘to give cover’ to Varadkar attending Zappone event

Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley: “The Government are left with no moral authority, unfortunately, to ask anyone to restrain themselves” due to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s attendance at the Zappone event. Photograph: Alan Betson

Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley: “The Government are left with no moral authority, unfortunately, to ask anyone to restrain themselves” due to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s attendance at the Zappone event. Photograph: Alan Betson

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The Government has been accused of “politicising” the role of the Attorney General and retrospectively interpreting regulations on outdoor gatherings to reduce political pressure following controversy over Katherine Zappone’s event in the Merrion Hotel.

Opposition politicians, as well as a Fianna Fáil Senator, targeted a Government statement released on Wednesday evening, citing the Attorney General’s advice on outdoor gatherings which suggested certain events of up to 200 people are allowed under regulations.

Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley said the release “politicised the AG in a power-sharing government”, and suggested it had been done to “give cover to the Tánaiste when in truth all he needed to do was apologise”. Leo Varadkar was among about 50 people who attended the event on July 21st.

Mr Dooley said the explanation would hamper public health officials “attempting to ease people out of restrictions” and that “the Government are left with no moral authority, unfortunately, to ask anyone to restrain themselves now” due to Mr Varadkar’s attendance at the event.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said he always tried to adhere to Covid restrictions and “as a public representative I try to be extra careful in that regard”. He said that Government regulations permit organised outdoor gatherings and events of up to 200 people, including social events.

‘Off the hook’

“I am confident these regulations were not breached. This matter has been checked with the Attorney General.”

David Cullinane, the Sinn Féin health spokesman, said the Government’s approach was “absolutely chaotic and it does smack of an attempt to retrospectively interpret the guidelines to get the Tánaiste off the hook”.

The Waterford TD told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme: “You cannot ride roughshod over the public health advice, and I think the Government have seriously undermined the credibility of their own public health advice.”

Fianna Fáil sources were privately scathing of the whole affair, including the treatment of the Katherine Zappone appointment at Cabinet, which one source described as “spectacularly incompetent”.

The Social Democrat’s co-leader Róisín Shortall said it was a “grubby little episode [which] suggests there is a prevalent attitude among an elite in Irish society that there is one rule for the little people and another for them”.

The chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Adrian Cummins, said the hospitality sector did not know until the Attorney General confirmed on Wednesday that up to 200 people were allowed for outdoor gatherings within social settings.

News to industry

“It was news to our industry,” he told Newstalk Breakfast on Thursday morning. “We didn’t know that until yesterday, until the Attorney General made the announcement. We welcome the announcement, because it gives us extra capacity and extra revenue opportunity.”

Meanwhile, spokespersons for Labour and the Social Democrats said they had not arranged any social events following the Dublin Bay South byelection.

A spokeswoman for Fine Gael said it “hasn’t yet held a thank-you event for members and volunteers in the Dublin Bay South byelection. We hope to hold it in September/October.”

It emerged on Wednesday the Green Party held an outdoor event for a group of 50-60 people to thank those who worked on its candidate’s campaign in the byelection. An invitation to the event was sent to Green Party members, as well as shared in several WhatsApp groups, some with more than 100 members.

It invited people to a “thank you” evening in the Merrion Cricket Club, apologising for the short notice and saying it was “difficult to find a venue this side of September thanks to Covid”. It noted the event would be “outdoors and socially distanced” in recognition for a “truly great byelection campaign”.

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