Leo Varadkar ‘regrets’ attending controversial event

Leo Varadkar ‘regrets’ attending controversial event

Mr Varadkar said he regrets going to the private reception, but said it was not in breach of Government guidelines.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has apologised for attending a controversial event hosted by former minister Katherine Zappone.

Mr Varadkar said he regrets going to the private reception, but said it was not in breach of Government guidelines.

New guidelines for the hospitality industry published on Friday mean 200 people can gather at an outdoor event with live music.

The change came in the wake of the Ms Zappone scandal, in which she organised a private party six days before she was nominated as a UN envoy.

The event was held at the Merrion hotel in Dublin and was attended by 50 people, including friends and former Government colleagues, among them Mr Varadkar.

Speaking publicly for the first time on the controversy, Mr Varadkar apologised to the hospitality industry for confusion surrounding “unclear” rules and guidelines on outdoor events.

The Fine Gael leader told RTÉ: “I know mostly everyone will try to stick to the rules and when there’s confusion about that, that makes it harder for people.

“I do want to say very clearly and state this very clearly that the event was not in breach the government regulations in place at the time, which allowed for gatherings of over 200.

GUIDELINES 'WEREN'T CLEAR'

“It probably wasn’t a breach of the Failte Ireland guidelines, and that’s part of the difficulty. They weren’t clear, and they have changed twice, actually, since then, they’ve changed 35 times since the pandemic began.

“They were largely silent outdoor events. It said at the time that you couldn’t book two tables, for example, indoors, but didn’t say anything about outdoors, and that’s one of the reasons why we clarified those guidelines today.” Mr Varadkar said he did not believe the guidelines were breached but he accepted they were “ambiguous” and open to interpretation.

“I think what is confusing for everyone here is the easiest thing you can do in a pandemic is shut the country down, the second easiest thing you could do is open up again,” he added.

“But when you’re doing what we’re trying to do now, which is open in a stepwise, safe pattern, there will be anomalies and there will be inconsistencies.

“Obviously, we needed to clarify the issue around outdoor gatherings and that was done.” He added that the guidelines did not say whether the public could book multiple tables outdoors.

REGRET

Mr Varadkar said he “absolutely regrets” any role he played in the confusion around outdoor dining.

He added that he hopes the controversy has not undermined public health advice.

“I did acknowledge, as I said earlier, that it can be confusing for people,” he added.

“For my part, I probably let my guard down. I did do a treble check, I did check the regulations, the ones that I signed off on, I checked with the organiser of the event, I checked with the manager of the hotel as I arrived to make sure that it was compliant.

“If I had gone through the regulations it actually wouldn’t have been clear, because the regulations on that day were silent on it.” He said the Government will ensure future guidelines are clearer for businesses and the public to understand.

He added: “We have made it very complicated for people and I do regret that, and part of my job now is to try to resolve that.” Mr Varadkar had been criticised for failing to address the matter earlier when reports of the event emerged.

Sinn Fein TD Matt Carthy was among those to call on Mr Varadkar to come out of “hiding” and answer questions on the event and the updated public health measures.

Mr Carthy said the question had to be answered if the new hospitality guidelines were “based on public health advice” or designed to give “cover” to the Tanaiste for his attendance at the event.

The Attorney General intervened after news of the Merrion hotel event broke, to say outdoor gatherings of up to 200 people are allowed under law, with the guidelines updated to reflect this.

Mr Carthy criticised the fact that no Cabinet minister was made available to answer questions on the subject.

He added: “The Government is trying to dance on the head of a pin in respect of whether, despite the fact that there were outside of the guidelines, they were within the law.

“The truth of the matter is that political leaders like Leo Varadkar would be attacking others if they were to do the same.” He said the new guidelines published on Friday had “created a lot of confusion.” 

“The real question that people now are asking is whether or not these new guidelines are based on public health advice, or whether they are an extension of the cover that has been provided to Leo Varadkar for his attendance at an event that was organised by someone who, six days later, he appointed to a made-up position, at huge cost to the Irish taxpayer,” he added.

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