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Fianna Fáil mounts major defence of Varadkar over Zappone party debacle

Fine Gael and Greens remain silent about hotel Covid row


Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar






Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

Fianna Fáil has launched a major defence of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar in the wake of the controversy over his attendance at Katherine Zappone’s Merrion Hotel party.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin issued a statement exonerating the Fine Gael leader for the fiasco that forced the Government to redraft hospitality guidelines to save Mr Varadkar’s political career.

In a statement, the Taoiseach said the Merrion Hotel did not breach Covid regulations and noted Mr Varadkar expressed regret. He said there is a need for “consistency and clarity” around hospitality guidelines but insisted the public should take “personal responsibility”.

Government Chief Whip Jack Chambers also took to the airwaves to issue a staunch defence of his Fine Gael constituency colleague.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s This Week, Mr Chambers welcomed the Tánaiste’s “very frank” apology to the hospitality industry and praised the Fine Gael leader for expressing regret about the incident.

He insisted Mr Varadkar, who is the Enterprise Minister, was “genuine” in seeking assurances that the event was allowed under Covid-19 regulations for businesses.

He insisted there were no parallels between the Merrion Hotel party and the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner which resulted in his Fianna Fáil colleague Dara Calleary resigning as agriculture minister.

However, Mr Chambers acknowledged there is “public anger” and “frustration” over Ms Zappone’s party.

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue, who was appointed after Mr Calleary resigned, also weighed in behind Mr Varadkar, saying he backed the Taoiseach’s statement.

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“The Taoiseach speaks on behalf of the party and I support his comments,” Mr McConalogue told the Irish Independent.

Last week, Fianna Fáil Minister of State Niall Collins was one of the first members of the Government to come to Mr Varadkar’s aid when details of his attendance at the party emerged.

Yesterday, Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, Education Minister Norma Foley and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly did not respond to requests for comment on whether they supported their party leader’s campaign to vindicate the Tánaiste.

There has been no public comment so far from any senior Fine Gael ministers about the latest controversy surrounding their party leader.

The Green Party has also remained silent on the Merrion Hotel party which was attended by Environment Minister Eamon Ryan’s joint chief of staff Donall Geoghegan.

Tourism Minister and Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin has stayed silent on the debacle despite the huge impact the confusion over the guidelines has had on the hospitality sector which she has responsibility for.

Yesterday, it was reported Fáilte Ireland, which come under the aegis of Ms Martin’s department, sought clarity on the rules around outdoor gatherings but was ignored.

Last Friday, Mr Varadkar was forced to apologise to the hospitality sector for the confusion surrounding guidelines which meant business missed out on at least a month of additional revenue that could have been raised by hosting parties of up to 200 people.

The Tánaiste insisted Ms Zappone’s party was not in breach of Government regulations and said it “probably” was not a breach of guidelines.

Meanwhile, Labour Party leader Alan Kelly will not say if he will be taking any action against Dublin Bay South TD Ivana Bacik over her attendance at the party.

Ms Bacik has not spoken publicly about her involvement in the incident or apologised for attending.

Labour TD Duncan Smith was critical of Ms Zappone’s party when news of it first emerged. However Labour has said nothing since it transpired Ms Bacik attended.

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