Government under pressure to clarify open-air gatherings guidelines after Zappone controversy

Up to 200 permitted under regulations, Government says Attorney General advised

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

 

The Government is under pressure to clarify the implications of revised guidelines on open-air gatherings after it said certain outdoor activities with up to 200 people are permitted.

Opposition and Coalition figures criticised the apparent contradiction between a Government statement last night and its stance on events such as communions and confirmations.

The statement was issued following a day of controversy and confusion surrounding an event organised by former cabinet minister Katherine Zappone, which culminated in her turning down a position as a Government envoy.

Revised guidelines are now being drawn up by Fáilte Ireland, which said it would “provide clarity on the operation of outdoor events”. Government sources indicated on Wednesday that public-health guidelines on communions and confirmations remained in place, citing the rollout of the vaccination programme to younger people and the overarching aim to reopen schools next month.

Advice

After Ms Zappone’s decision, the Government said it had received advice from the Attorney General that social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community events of up to 200 people were permitted under regulations.

Events held in dwellings, wedding receptions, sporting events or training events are not allowed under regulations, it said.

The event in the Merrion Hotel was attended by some 50 people, including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Dublin Bay South TD Ivana Bacik and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan’s joint chief of staff, Dónall Geoghegan.

It also emerged last night that Mr Ryan attended a similar-sized outdoor event at a south Dublin sports club last week. It was “ to thank those who campaigned in the recent byelection”, the Green party said in a statement. “The health regulations allow for outdoor events for a variety of reasons,” it said.

The hospitality industry welcomed the Attorney General’s advice, saying it should be “utilised for all guidelines/restrictions on hospitality businesses”.

The opposition rounded on the Government over the controversy. Sinn Féin agriculture spokesman Matt Carthy said it had “lost all credibility on lecturing anyone in terms of regulations”.

“You can’t suggest it’s okay for all sorts of other gatherings to take place but there is a distinction to be made with regard to communions and confirmations,” he said.

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon questioned whether – on the back of the advice that events with up to 200 people are allowed at organised outdoor gatherings – someone who wished to hold an event to mark a communion or confirmation could “simply call it something else”.

Fianna Fáil senator Timmy Dooley asked how “an elite group of senior people” could have “a garden party of 50 in a five-star hotel in Dublin” but that people in east Clare couldn’t have a similar function following a communion, confirmation or funeral.

‘Lack of consistency’

Earlier yesterday, Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell said there was a “a lack of consistency” in public-health advice as he defended the decision to allow priests proceed with confirmations and communions in defiance of Covid guidelines.

Speaking on RTÉ, he asked why “it’s okay to have a bash in the Merrion Hotel with 50 people present. But yet, it’s not possible for a parent to take their child along to receive the sacrament.”

A spokesman for Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the office of archbishop was contacted and advised against holding the ceremonies.

Elsewhere, Laois County Council refused to grant the Electric Picnic a licence to hold this year’s music festival, The council said the decision was made “following the most up-to-date public-health advice ” .

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