It would probably all have just blown over.
Katherine Zappone had been nominated for a freshly minted position as a part time Irish representative for Human Rights and that hadn’t been exactly adroitly handled. FG forgot to mention it to the Taoiseach or the other party leader fella they’re in government with before Cabinet. But the Cabinet, in their constitutional mutuality, had approved the appointment. The Taoiseach had grumbled a bit afterwards but indicated it was all in the past now.
Then the Irish Independent ran a barely connected story, but featuring many of the same actors. Like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, this quickly eclipsed the first episode, becoming the story’s locus, leaving the candidate’s withdrawal from the UN position as almost a second order tale.
Because, as it turned out, powerful people had all gathered in a fancy place and listened politely while being talked at. And, after the great Golfgate paroxym consumed an EU Commissioner and required the Chief Justice and a past Chief Justice to invent a non-statutory process, the political world knew what that could mean.
Without hesitation, Fine Gael triggered its Prime Directive- Protect Leo Varadkar At All Costs.
UN appointment? Nope.
A year’s worth of constructive ambiguity between industry guidelines and advice and legal requirements? Nope.
Apropros of nothing the AG issued a quick assessment of people who happened to go to hotel garden parties that weren’t weddings, which happened on the 21st July 2021, and were outdoors. You, like me, will be glad to hear that those people were all confirmed to be A-OK, in terms of the Covid Restrictions.
But as the ripples of the Merrion drinks spread outside the confines of the political (we even had an Archbishop wanting to know why outdoor first communion parties were out, while politicians drinks were in) it wasn’t clear that the political actors were going to be able to climb out of the gap between what people have been told to do and what the law said they could do, into which they had fallen. (You can follow me down the rabbit holes of the relevant SIs in this twitter thread. Note that the limit is not 200 attendees, but 200 people ‘proposed to attend’, which suggests a limit on invites rather than people who turn up).
Because, even as the AG was issuing his blessing for up to 200 person social events in hotel gardens, the non-statutory guidelines from Fáilte Ireland, which hotels and other hospitality businesses have followed dutifully were unambiguous:
“Meetings/ Events: Organised events are not permitted.”
There was never a 5k limit for travel, it was just advice. There was never a legal requirement for older people to cocoon. It was just advice. And, as we can see, right now, Organised events are not forbidden. The problem is that for the past year, the Government has consistantly relied on health advice to the public and to businesses to shape what the social norms should be- not on the legislation.
Invoking the Prime Directive, as Captain Picard would readily tell you, can have some unintended and unwelcome consequences.
It may be that after this week’s events, the government’s ability to advance public health advice which goes beyond what it can legislate for has ended.
Given the pressures on all sides, between industry and religious figures on one hand and the threat of the Delta varient on the other, this particular evening out may yet have a national hangover.
Photo: cc By JD Hancock