Leo Varadkar passionately challenged by Doherty in Parliament
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And Ray Bassett believes the whole episode underlines the “breathtaking cynicism” of Mr Varadkar, who is currently Ireland’s Tanaiste or deputy leader as well as being leader of his party, Fine Gael. Mr Varadkar, known in the UK for his close links with Brussels throughout the Brexit process, has denied any breach of COVID-19 regulations in respect of the outdoor social gathering, held at a hotel in Dublin six days before Ms Zappone was due to be appointed a United Nations Special Envoy – a position she opted not to take after news of the event broke.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Foreign Minister and deputy Fine Gael leader, also attended.
Mr Bassett, Ireland’s former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, told Express.co.uk: “Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney have been badly damaged by the recent controversies.
“They are clearly out of touch with the average citizen if they believe that the public buys their explanations on the Merrion Hotel event or the failed attempt to appoint former Minister Zappone to the Irish representation at the United Nations.”
Mr Bassett added: “Both Ministers felt that they could operate as if the normal constraints did not apply to them.
“It is clear that they have been in Government for too long and have lost touch with the bulk of the population.”
He claimed: “There is literally nobody who believes that the sudden loosening of the national guidelines on Covid restrictions were not a cover to justify Leo’s attendance at the party in the Merrion Hotel.
“The cynicism of the whole exercise is breathtaking and smacks of a corrupting attitude of entitlement.
“For the first time there are serious question marks being raised about the leadership of Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney in the Fine Gael party.”
Mr Varadkar, who was replaced as Taoiseach by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin last year, yesterday expressed his “regret” over attending the event and apologised to the hospitality industry for confusion surrounding “unclear” rules and guidelines on outdoor events.
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He added: “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.
“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 emphasised that he did not believe the guidelines were breached – but he accepted they were “ambiguous” and open to interpretation.
He added: “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.
“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.
“There are actually four levels of rules.
“There are the government regulations, which trump everything because they’re the statutory basis; there’s government advice; there’s Nphet advice, which is sometimes different from government advice; and then there are sectoral guidelines.
“Obviously, we needed to clarify the issue around outdoor gatherings and that was done.”
The guidelines did not say whether the public could book multiple tables outdoors, Mr Varadkar said.
Express.co.uk has contacted both Mr Varadkar’s office and that of Mr Coveney for comment about Mr Bassett’s remarks.
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