Katherine Zappone has said she was assured by the Merrion Hotel her private party for friends and former colleagues was in line with the Government’s Covid-19 restrictions.
In her first public comments since her controversial appointment as a special envoy for freedom of expression, Ms Zappone said the five-star Dublin hotel said her party for around 50 guests was permitted under the current rules.
In a statement to RTE’s News at One, the former Cabinet minister said: “Please contact the Merrion Hotel for their statement regarding compliance with government Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines for my private event.
"Prior to organising the event I enquired, and was assured by the Merrion Hotel, that the event would be in compliance with government Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines,” she added.
Ms Zappone has not responded to any queries posed to her by the Irish Independent.
Ms Zappone hosted around 50 friends and former colleagues at a private outdoor function in the Merrion Hotel which was attended by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
The event, in one of the country’s most exclusive hotels, was held six days before Ms Zappone was controversially appointed special envoy on freedom of opinion and expression.
The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) said Fáilte Ireland’s guidelines for reopening hotels and guest houses state that “organised events, indoor and outdoor, are not permitted” unless they are weddings or “non-social meetings, training and educational programmes considered essential to the operation of a business”.
The Government’s hospitality rules do not permit customers to book multiple tables in a restaurant, pub or hotel.
Details of the former minister’s event comes as the Government is locked in a row with the Catholic Church over communions and confirmations.
Ministers have argued religious ceremonies should not be held as they lead to large social gatherings which can become super-spreader events.
Ms Zappone’s party in the luxury, five-star Dublin hotel was attended by friends, civil servants and politicians.
Around 50 guests were seated separately at tables of six in the Merrion Hotel’s Garden Terrace.
The Tánaiste attended the event prior to a meeting he held with Fine Gael senators on the same evening.
He told the meeting he had just come from an event hosted by their former government colleague Ms Zappone.
Mr Varadkar asked Ms Zappone prior to the event if her party was in line with the Government’s guidelines for the hospitality sector. She assured him it was. He also checked with a member of the hotel’s staff prior to attending the event.
In a statement, Merrion Hotel said: “At all times since the start of the pandemic, we have adhered to government public health measures, including the relevant guidelines that were in place at the time of the event you reference on July 21st. These have since been updated on July 23rd.
“Government regulations at the time allowed for outdoor events of up to 200 people, and the definition of that includes social events. This upper limit still applies, except now indoor events in hotels are excluded per government guidelines published by Fáilte Ireland.”
Before her statement this morning, Ms Zappone had not responded to any questions about the private event she organised prior to being appointed to the taxpayer-funded position which could earn her an additional €15,000 while she is drawing down her ministerial pension.
It is believed she contacted the Merrion Hotel after questions were raised by the Irish Independent about whether her party was permitted under the Government’s rules for hotels.
Fáilte Ireland’s guidelines for hotels and guesthouses say organised events are not permitted.
The guidelines for pubs and restaurants also say organised gatherings are not permitted.
The guidelines say a maximum of six people over the age of 13 are permitted at a table.
There is no distinction made between indoor and outdoor dining in the rules on table numbers.
The guidelines for pubs and restaurants include a section on “Organised Outdoor Events / Gatherings”.
This section says a max of “200 attendees 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.
When the rules on outdoor gatherings were first introduced, similar figures were stated for sports events and outdoor concerts, and it is unclear why they are in the guidelines.
A hospitality industry source involved in the talks about reopening the sector said at no point was it suggested hotels,
restaurants and pubs could host large social gatherings outdoors.