Former TD attended dinner without quarantining after golfing in Spain

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Digital Desk staff

Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke and Press Association

UPDATED: 5.55pm

It has emerged that former Cavan and Monaghan TD Paudge Connolly broke quarantine rules by attending the controversial Oireachtas Golf Society dinner just days after being in Spain.

The Independent Councillor played golf in Algorfa on August 11th before returning home, with Government guidelines stating anyone travelling into Ireland from a non-green list country such as Spain must restrict their movements for 14 days.

Mr Connolly has apologised for attending the dinner.

It comes as the European Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan is being called to explain his attendance at the event on Wednesday evening.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio, Leader of the Seanad, Regina Doherty said Commissioner Hogan should apologise for attending the event.

Ms Doherty also said the decision by the former Attorney General, Supreme Court judge, Mr Justice Seamus Wolfe to attend displayed “a stunning lapse of judgement.”

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The controversy had so far led to the resignations of Minister for Agriculture Dara Calleary and Senator Jerry Buttimer as Seanad Leas-Cathaoirleach after they attended the golf society event at a hotel in Clifden in breach of current Covid-19 restrictions.

Earlier this week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the introduction of tighter restrictions in order to combat the spread of the virus in the Republic. Under the new guidelines, gatherings in a household are limited to just six people from three households and outdoor gatherings are limited to 15.

It was reported that over 80 people attended the golf event, including former RTÉ presenter Seán O'Rourke, Senator Jerry Buttimer and Galway-West TD Noel Grealish.

Commissioner Hogan confirmed this morning on Twitter that he attended the event and clarified that he had returned to Ireland from Europe in late July, fulfilling the necessary self-isolation period.

He also tweeted that the hotel in question had been reassured that the event would be in compliance with current restrictions.

The European Commission has defended Mr Hogan, saying he attended the golf society event in good faith after receiving assurances that Government guidelines would be followed.

Spokeswoman Dana Spinant said: “Upon his return from Brussels to Ireland for the summer holiday, [Mr Hogan] had self-isolated himself for 14 days in accordance with the local regulations in Ireland, and this is an example of how seriously he takes rules and regulations on Covid-19.”

Blame

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Ms Doherty rejected Mr Hogan's defense, saying it was too easy to blame the Hotels Federation.

“Anyone who walked into that room and saw the set up should have walked away. They shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” she said.

The Irish Hotels Federation has issued a statement saying it had sought clarification on a number of issues from the Department of Tourism following the Government’s announcement of new restrictions on Tuesday.

“In line with the protocol agreed with the Department, we advised all members that the status quo remains in terms of current operational procedures for hotels until further notice. The current guidelines around capacity at an indoor event are clear. They permit a maximum of 50 people at any one time including hotel staff and any other event support workers,” it said.

“Multiple gatherings are allowed in venue facilities provided they are in separate defined spaces and there are systems to prevent intermingling in common spaces e.g. entrances, exits and toilet facilities... Compliance with the published operational guidelines is the responsibility of each individual hotel."

NPHET reaction

Chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) Dr Ronan Glynn said this evening that the event was “not in line with public health guidance” and “similar events should not take place in the future”.

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“Too many people have made sacrifices for us to be veered off course now,” he said.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the event in Galway was “wrong and inexcusable”.

“At a minimum, people need to see members of the Oireachtas following public health guidelines,” he said. Buttimer and Calleary did the honourable thing in resigning, he said.

Dáil recall

Opposition TDs have now called for more resignations of those who attended the controversial golfing dinner.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said she spoke to Taoiseach Micheál Martin and asked him to recall the Dáil, saying: "He has refused my request to recall the Dáil. He is wrong."

Sinn Féin's housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said the events had undermined confidence in the Government and that resignations were needed to restore public confidence: “There are questions marks over former attorney general Seamus Woulfe and Phil Hogan the EU Commissioner.”

“The single most important thing this government will do is restore public confidence. It needs to do that by other politicians following Dara Calleary and Jerry Buttimer’s actions.”

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Labour party leader Alan Kelly also called for the Dáil to be recalled immediately. He told RTÉ radio’s News at One “it’s beyond a joke now, public confidence is gone, the public just won’t tolerate this now.

“I’ve been in politics a while now and rarely have I seen such public anger.”

Mr Kelly said it was unacceptable to have a situation where there was no Minister for Agriculture while there were pressing issues in the sector such as outbreaks of Covid-19 in meat processing factories, and it was "essential" that the Taoiseach recall the Dáil next week so that a new Minister could be appointed.

With regard to the position of Supreme Court Judge Seamus Wolfe, Mr Kelly said that if he had still been Attorney General he would no longer be in the position. “I’m very uncomfortable that a judge was at a function like this.”

Mr Kelly said he would expect that the Chief Justice is now going “to sit down and have a long conversation with him.”

I attended based on that understanding, that it would be within the guidelines, but do apologise for any unintentional breach of any of the new guidelines on my part.

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Mr Woulfe also released a statement confirming he was at the event, saying: "I was not aware in advance that there was going to be an organised dinner as part of the event.

"I attended based on that understanding, that it would be within the guidelines, but do apologise for any unintentional breach of any of the new guidelines on my part.

"I would never disregard governmental or health authorities advice regarding public health, and have been at pains to follow rules and guidelines since their introduction in March.

"That I ended up in a situation where breaches may have occurred, is of great regret to me, and for which I am sorry. I unreservedly apologise," Mr Woulfe's statement read.

Whips removed

Taoiseach Micheál Martin removed the party whip on Friday afternoon from three Fianna Fáil Senators, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt and Niall Blaney who attended the golf society event.

Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had also removed three Fine Gael members, Senators Jerry Buttimer, Paddy Burke and John Cummins, from the party whip due to the controversy.

Senator Buttimer stepped down from his roll as Leas Cathaoirleach of the Seanad earlier on Friday, apologising for his attendance at the event.

Mr Grealish also issued an apology, saying it was an error of judgement but insisting that he exercised social distancing throughout, and was assured the event met public health guidelines.

Garda Investigation

Gardaí have confirmed they are investigating the breach of Covid-19 restrictions at the event in Connemara.

Under the current restrictions, it is an offence to organise an indoor event for more than 50 people, or an outdoor event for more than 200 people.

Offences are punishable by a fine of up to €2,500, up to six months imprisonment, or a combination of both, according to Citizens Information.

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