Merrion Hotel event ‘sparked clarification’ of guidelines, says junior minister

A Green Party minister has admitted the rules were updated because of the controversial event attended by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
Merrion Hotel event ‘sparked clarification’ of guidelines, says junior minister

Cate McCurry, PA

New pandemic guidelines for the hospitality industry were prompted by the controversial event at the Merrion hotel, a Government junior minister has admitted.

The rules, which were updated on Friday, mean 200 people can now gather at an outdoor event with live music.

The change comes in the wake of the Katherine Zappone scandal, in which she organised a private party 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 those in attendance was Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who is set to make a statement on the matter on Friday evening.

Coronavirus – Mon Jun 28, 2021
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar is set to make a statement on his attendance at controversial Merrion Hotel event (Niall Carson/PA)

Minister of State Malcolm Noonan (Green Party) told Newstalk’s The Hard Shoulder: “Certainly the event at Merrion hotel has probably sparked some clarification.

“There had certainly been perhaps some level of confusion around the level of complexity that was there around the guidelines previously.

“I think today gives us those updated guidelines that Fáilte Ireland have brought forward.

“It was needed, it was needed by the hospitality sector, and needed by those who are working in hospitality sector.

“And for people to be able to go out and enjoy our gradual easing of restrictions.”

The update in the guidelines means multiple tables can be booked for outdoor parties. However, intermingling between tables is not permitted and everyone must leave the premises by 11.30pm.

A further change in the guidelines means live music and performances are also permitted outdoors at weddings but states no live or loud music or performances are allowed indoors.

Dancing is also not permitted and “novelty supplies/acts” are also banned.

Katherine Zappone appointment
Katherine Zappone said she will not be taking up the role of UN special envoy following days of criticism and pressure from opposition parties (Niall Carson/PA)

In a statement, a spokesman for the Government said: “Following the advice by the Attorney General on August 4 that regulations do provide for organised outdoor events and gatherings up to 200 people, the relevant Fáilte Ireland guidelines have been updated today and are available now on the Fáilte Ireland website.

“The guidelines have also been updated to allow for live music and other performances outdoors in hospitality settings, subject to all of the relevant public health guidance.”

The updated guidelines state a maximum of 200 people can attend the majority of venues.

A limit of 500 people is in place for venues with capacity greater than 5,000 with appropriate protective measures in place, it adds.

Indoor organised events are currently not allowed with the exception of weddings and non-social meetings, training and educational programmes.

Weddings guest numbers are restricted to 100.

'Very challenging'

Padraig Cribben, the chief executive of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, said that before this new guidance his understanding was that outdoor events were confined to tables of six and parties were not allowed.

Mr Cribben welcomed the changes, but said that the current rules will still present “significant challenges”.

“It’s all very, very challenging and demanding of additional staff, which are not there,” he told RTE radio.

“We need now to see the road map, the road map back to normality so that these kinds of things don’t need to be managed any more,” he said.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy described the changes to public health guidance as “government cover-up”.

“They don’t mind if some extra people die from Covid as long as none of them have to resign,” he tweeted.

Musicians and performers have welcomed the changes.

Events singer Jenny O’Donovan said that guidance should be further updated to allow for indoor performances at weddings.


Ms O’Donovan, who sings at weddings and other events, said: “I think it’s a bit mad that we can’t perform inside. I was at a wedding last week and was singing at the ceremony in one room and at the other side of the double doors was the drinks reception and people were walking in and out of both rooms.

“It doesn’t make sense. People attending weddings stay in one big group, they hug and kiss during the day, but by 9pm they can’t get up to dance even after mingling all day.

“The majority of the population is vaccinated and everyone wants things to move forward.

“It’s great people can perform at outdoor events now but it feels like they have opened it only a bit.

“There is a lot of people who perform only at smaller gigs, like in pubs so the changes will open it up more for them.

“But I think they (Government) should go further. Up to 40,000 people can go to a football match but we still can’t have live gigs.

“We should be able to do something smaller. The differences is creating bad air and no one wants to go against the other, we want to move forward together.”

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