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Clare TD critical of online ‘optics’ around Merrion Hotel row

CLARE’S Fianna Fáil TD has hit out at the “optics” surrounding social media commentary on the botched plan to make Katharine Zappone a special envoy to the United Nations (UN).

Deputy Cathal Crowe told The Champion he “wouldn’t know where to find the Merrion Hotel” where a controversial gathering was held by the former minister days before her planned appointment was revealed. Deputy Crowe was sharply critical, however, of some Opposition party’s calls on social media for the resignation of the Tánaiste, who apologised for “letting his guard down” by going to the outdoor event.

Since the event, which generated a political storm and caused pandemic guidelines to be clarified by the Attorney General, efforts have been intensifying on social media to identify the attendees at the Merrion Hotel event. “I wasn’t invited,” Deputy Crowe said. “I wouldn’t have attended and I don’t mix in those circles. When I’m in Dublin, I work damn hard and then I get back to Clare as soon as I can to work on issues there. I don’t socialise in Dublin at all.”

On the Merrion Hotel gathering, the Fianna Fáil member noted it looked “more like a lobbying event”.

“I wouldn’t know where to find the Merrion Hotel and like most politicians I’m in it for the right reasons,” he said.
The Meelick man was sharply critical of efforts on social media to stir up the controversy. “I’m aware of a spreadsheet circulating and people being told to ask their TDs if they attended,” he said.

“The thing is after I got a barrage of emails, which I am very happy to reply to, my reply wasn’t mentioned on social media. Instead, there was praise for the Sinn Féin and Social Democrat TDs who responded.

“We’re dealing increasingly with a world of optics and it’s very damaging to politics.

“Every time there is a Dáil vote, you find a one-line narrative being circulated in an orchestrated way on social media afterwards. Sinn Féin are masters of this and it can be very misleading. This is hugely damaging and it’s debasing politics. These kinds of over-simplified narratives have been playing out right over the summer.”

Sinn Féin TD, Deputy Violet Anne Wynne also responded on social media to queries about her attendance at the Merrion Hotel event. She told her followers on Twitter,” I certainly wasn’t, from the dole to the Dáil they would never socialise with myself”.

The Kilrush woman applauded the social media campaign around the controversy.

“Twitter alone tells us what the people want,” she said. “#Resignleo has been trending as it is blatant that the people want him gone. #Merrion50 is the list of attendees that the people want, many questions remain unanswered. It is quite unbelievable that the public have had to do a process of elimination on social media to find out and is an indictment of the poor leadership being shown here. Leo should just step up and tell us all who was in attendance, it absolutely stinks of the elite attitude of entitlement.”

Deputy Wynne was critical of the leader of the Labour Party and contrasted his approach with the one he took to the controversial Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Clifden last summer. “I also find it amazing that Deputy Alan Kelly is so silent,” she said.

“When it came to the Golf Gate scandal, he was everywhere looking for the resignations of them all. Now that Labour is back in with FG with Ivana [Bacik] in attendance he has done a Harry Houdini on us and vanished.”

Deputy Wynne added that the controversy still hasn’t subsided in her view.

“This scandal has caused great upset and anger amongst the public,” she said.

“The government needs to reconvene early and Leo needs to come to the floor of the chamber, explain his actions and his colleagues’ actions and why they think they have the right to bend the rules when it suits, If this action isn’t taken then an election must be called for. The people have had enough.”

Deputy Joe Carey meanwhile confirmed on Twitter that he was not invited and did not attend the Merrion Hotel gathering.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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