Ministers to push for resumption of First Communions and Confirmations

Department of Foreign Affairs to review process of appointing special envoys

Former minister Katherine Zappone. organised an outdoor event at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin which was attended by about 50 people including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Former minister Katherine Zappone. organised an outdoor event at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin which was attended by about 50 people including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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Several Government Ministers are to push for the resumption of First Communions and Confirmations as controversy continues over a perceived inconsistency in public-health guidelines surrounding gatherings.

It comes after the Government said certain outdoor events involving up to 200 people could go ahead, in a statement that it released following an event in the Merrion Hotel organised by former minister Katherine Zappone.

The controversy over Ms Zappone’s appointment as special envoy also looks set to continue into the new Dáil term.

Members of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs have renewed their calls for the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to appear in September to answer questions about the role, which Ms Zappone this week stood down from. She stepped down from the role on the same day as it was revealed that she organised the outdoor event in the Merrion Hotel, which was attended by about 50 people including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

The Attorney General said existing regulations allowed for gatherings of up to 200 people outdoors, while the Government said the guidelines to reflect this would be updated.

Hotels and restaurants have said they were unaware of the outdoor guidelines.

Officials from the Department of Tourism and Fáilte Ireland met on Thursday to discuss the guidelines. It is expected that the updated guidelines will be discussed at a meeting of the Cabinet Covid-19 subcommittee on Friday.

Furthermore, while sources have said a resumption of Communions and Confirmations was not officially on the agenda for the meeting, a number of Ministers are now pushing for new guidance for the ceremonies.

‘Strong case’

A senior source said there is now a “strong case” to be made for setting a date and allowing such services to recommence. Any change is likely to require full Cabinet approval, however. A planned restart date of September has been indicated by sources.

A number of Catholic bishops have already given the go-ahead for First Holy Communions and Confirmations to take place later this month in defiance of the current guidelines.

Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it would review the process of appointing special envoys in the wake of the controversy over the bid to select Ms Zappone for such a role.

Asked if there would be an open competition for the role, a department spokesman said the process of appointing special envoys would be “reviewed after August”. He said: “There is merit in the use of special envoys to advance our human-rights priorities, which is why this role was created in the first place.

“We will discuss internally and within government and decide in due course.”

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

Asked about the controversy, Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid appealed to people to avoid dropping their guard over the coming weeks, out of “frustration or confusion”.

“We’re so close to being on the right side of this pandemic . . . The only cause of concern we would have, people just drop the guard over the next few weeks, whether it is out of frustration, confusion,” he said at a HSE briefing.

Asked about the event later on RTÉ’s Drivetime programme, he said: “It can cause confusion, it can cause distraction, it can cause a reaction . . . My call to everybody is please do everything we’re doing at the moment, we need a few weeks to work through the remaining vaccination process.”

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