Phil Hogan’s future as EU Trade Commissioner hangs in the balance as he has been asked to provide more detail on his attendance at a controversial Oireachtas Golf Society dinner, and his possible violation of Covid-19 restrictions by President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
Mr Hogan was one of more than 80 people, including a number of senior politicians and a member of the judiciary, who attended the dinner in Clifden, Co Galway last Wednesday, in an apparent breach of restrictions.
It then emerged on Sunday night that Mr Hogan was stopped by gardaí for using his mobile phone while driving in Kildare last week.
According to The Irish Times, Mr Hogan presented a dossier on his involvement in the golf event to Ms von der Leyen on Monday morning who then asked Mr Hogan to provide more detail.
European Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant told reporters on Monday: “This is a matter which requires careful assessment on our side.
“It is a matter where details count, therefore the president has requested Commissioner Hogan to provide a full report covering the matters… the president has received such a report from Commissioner Hogan last night.”
She added: “The president has requested further clarifications because details are important and she wishes to have them.”
Ms Spinant said there were “moral aspects” involved in the need to follow coronavirus rules, as well as legal ones.
“We feel for the people of Ireland who, like many other people and communities in the European Union over the past months, had to go through difficult times to comply with strict regulations in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” she said.
It is understood the dossier has not yet been provided to senior members of the Irish Government.
The Government will now await Ms von der Leyen’s judgment on the report and any additional information from Mr Hogan.
On Monday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin called for Mr Hogan to give a "very comprehensive statement" about his attendance at the golf event and his movements in Co Kildare, but stopped short of calling for his resignation.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne, the Taoiseach said he had asked Mr Hogan to consider his position over the weekend.
Of even more concern to him, he said, was if the Commissioner had breached Covid restrictions in Kildare.
“The public need to know that restrictions in Kildare were not breached,” he said.
Mr Martin said he had received a call from the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to inform him that Mr Hogan had been stopped by gardaí for using a mobile phone while he was driving in Kildare.
This was of concern to him and the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, he said, as this information was not in accordance with what Mr Hogan had initially said about being in Kildare.
Mr Martin said that given there was a discrepancy between Mr Hogan's statements and he needed to know that the restrictions in Kildare were not breached. He and the Tánaiste had asked the Garda Commissioner for full details on the incident.
On Sunday, a spokesman confirmed that last week Mr Hogan went from Kilkenny to the K-Club in Co Kildare on his way to Clifden to collect personal belongings and “essential” work papers.
Kildare is currently under localised Covid-19 restrictions which prevents all non-essential travel into and out of the county.
Mr Hogan’s spokesman said the commissioner was stopped by a garda for using his mobile phone while driving in Kildare en route to Clifden. “He stopped briefly at his apartment [in the K-Club in Kildare] to collect personal belongings and essential documents relating to the EU-US trade negotiations, which continued while the Commissioner was in Galway.”
Mr Hogan was cautioned and he did not receive penalty points, the spokesman said.
Mr Martin said he would like to see a “very comprehensive statement” from Mr Hogan to fully explain his position around the restrictions in Kildare.
“We are holding a light on the anger of the Irish people to what they regard as an unacceptable breach of the guidelines by people in office.”
Earlier on Monday, the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the Government does not have confidence in Mr Hogan and that he should resign.
The Minister said that no one should be above the law and gave the example of Dara Calleary swiftly resigning. “It just appears to a lot of people that the only person who appears to be above taking any responsibility for this appears to be EU Commissioner Hogan.”
“It is a really important portfolio, Brexit is on the horizon, but let’s not forget this, Michel Barnier has been head of the negotiating team for the last couple of years, he's a Frenchman, he's an EU official, he and this team have acted on behalf of the EU and have put Ireland's interests first ... It's not just down to one person.”