Republic of Ireland news

Tánaiste's attendance at Merrion event ‘undermined public confidence', Eamon Ryan says

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Picture by Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire
James Ward, PA

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has said the Tánaiste’s attendance at a controversial event at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin has “undermined public confidence”.

Leo Varadkar last week apologised for attending the party, hosted by former minister Katherine Zappone, in an outdoor area of the hotel and attended by 50 people, but said it “probably” was not a breach of pandemic hospitality regulations.

The controversy led to a clarification of the rules around outdoor hospitality on Friday, with 200 now allowed gather at an event, with live music.

Mr Ryan also found himself in hot water, after it emerged that he had attended a separate event at the Merrion Cricket Club, hosted by Claire Byrne, Green Party candidate for the Dublin Bay South by-election.

Mr Ryan defended his coalition partner today, but said that, with hindsight, he would rather they had not attended the events.

“I actually think this whole controversy has undermined public confidence and it’s our job then to try and restore that, by making sure we get the further reopening of the country right, and I think we can and will do that,” he said.

“Clearly, in hindsight, in terms of maintaining public confidence, I’d prefer had we not attended those events, because anything that in any way undermines public confidence, that doesn’t help, and part of our job, as those who set the rules, is to try and restore that.

“I regret very much that those events did lead to that controversy of the last week.”

Mr Ryan said the events were within the regulations, but had highlighted the need for the rules to be “simplified”.

He told RÉ’s Morning Ireland: “There is a real problem and it’s real regret that the guidelines in regard to those events weren’t as clear as they should have been.

“It was appropriate that they have been updated and will continue to be updated, because what we now need to do is to continue to reopen the country.

“We have to be careful, the numbers are still high in the last few days.

“But what we expect is that, with vaccination levels hitting the levels they are, we will be able to further open.

“It’s not easy reopening, getting all the guidelines in terms of specific cases is not easy.

“I think what we need to do is to simplify it and to make it easier, particularly to get the entertainment and other outdoor events back.”

Mr Ryan drew a distinction between the Merrion Hotel controversy, and last year’s Golfgate saga, which saw former minster Dara Calleary resign following a breach of the rules at a golf event in Clifden, Co Galway.

“That event in the hotel in Clifden was in breach of the regulations and the event in the Merrion Hotel wasn’t, and that is a fundamental difference,” he said.

Chief whip and Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers has said the Merrion Hotel controversy was “not good for the government”.

He told Newstalk Breakfast: “I acknowledge and appreciate the huge frustration and anger that the last number of days have caused.

“I welcome the fact that the Tánaiste has apologised directly to the industry, and expressed his regret about the controversy.

“I think it has been a difficult number of days, and last week was not good for the Government, there’s no doubt about that.

“But we’re moving on, and we’re trying to focus now on the next phase of managing Covid.”

The event at the Merrion Hotel was held by Ms Zappone six days before she was appointed by the Government as a UN special envoy, a role she stepped back from following the controversy.

Today Sinn Féin said Mr Varadkar still had “significant” questions to answer about his attendance.

TD Donnchadh O’Laoghaire said: “The government, I think, would like us all to move on from the whole issue of the knees-up at the Merrion hotel.

“But as far as I’m concerned, there’s still very significant questions that need to be answered.”

He added: “Was the appointment discussed at the party that former minister Zappone organised?

“What was the purpose of the event, the party, the meeting, whatever it was, what was discussed at it?

“I also think Micheál Martin needs to say a bit more as well, I thought his statement yesterday was very weak.

“Does he believe the account given by Leo Varadkar on the Six One News is credible? I certainly don’t.

“And does he accept that the Tánaiste who would have been central to the drawing up of the guidelines, was unaware of the situation? Does he accept his explanation?”

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