#Golfgate: Why the Oireachtas Golf Society event has caused such a stir

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#Golfgate: Why The Oireachtas Golf Society Event Has Caused Such A Stir #Golfgate: Why The Oireachtas Golf Society Event Has Caused Such A Stir
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Muireann Duffy
UPDATED: 26/08/2020 12.20pm

An event held in the Station House Hotel in Connemara for the Oireachtas Golf Society has thrown the Government into chaos after a number of politicians allegedly breached Covid-19 guidelines by attending the event.

Former Minister of Agriculture Dara Calleary submitted his resignation to Taoiseach Micheál Martin earlier today after #Golfgate implicated a number of high-profile figures.Others have followed, with party whips withdrawn from several senators and social media outrage demanding that an EU Commissioner and a Supreme Court judge consider their positions.

Tuesday, August 18th

Due to concerns over the increased number of Covid-19 cases being recorded in the Republic, the Taoiseach announced tighter restrictions would be implemented in an attempt to suppress the virus.

The new restrictions limited the number of people permitted at indoor gatherings to six people from three households and 15 people at outdoor gatherings.

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All sport was forced behind closed doors and restaurants were slapped with 11.30pm closing times.

The new restrictions replaced existing phase three restrictions, which allowed for a maximum of 50 people at indoor gatherings, except for shops or restaurants which were adhering to social distancing guidelines.

However, until the new restrictions can be passed into law, the current phase three rules still apply. This means that events in hotels are still subject to limits of 50 people at events, which includes hotel and catering staff.

Wednesday, August 19th

Despite new guidelines issued by the Government, the Oireachtas Golf Society celebrated its 50th anniversary in the Station House Hotel in Clifden.

The event was said to have been organised by the President of the golf society and former Fianna Fáil TD Donie Cassidy, honouring former Fianna Fáil MEP Mark Killilea Jnr.

The Oireachtas golf society is comprised of:

  • Laois-Offaly TD Barry Cowen
  • Minister of State for Trade Promotion Robert Troy
  • Cork North-West TD Michael Creed
  • Kildare TD James Lawless
  • Senator Aidan Davitt
  • Senator Paul Daly
  • Former Clare TD Dr Michael Harty
  • Former Galway-West TD Frank Fahy
  • Former Senator Eamonn Coghlan
  • Former Senator Paul Coghlan
  • Former Kildare TD Gerry Brady
  • Galway-West TD Noel Grealish (Captain and honorary secretary)
  • Former Westmeath TD Donie Cassidy (President)
  • Dublin North-East TD Pat McCartan (Vice-President)
  • Former Cork East TD Michael Ahern (Honorary Treasurer)
  • Senator Paddy Burke (Assistant Treasurer)
  • Former Kildare TD Jack Wall (PRO)
  • Former Senator Lorraine Higgins (Director of Golf)
  • John Flaherty
  • Honorary Life Members:

  • EU Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan
  • Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen
  • Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny
  • Former Tánaiste Dick Spring
  • Former EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services and Kildare TD Charlie McCreevy
  • Former Laois-Offaly TD Tom Enright

Thursday, August 20th

The Irish Examiner reported that over 80 people were in attendance, in an alleged breach of both old phase three guidelines, and the Taoiseach's updated restrictions.

The table plan listed ten people at each table, despite guidelines stating only six people should be seated at any one table.

The Examiner also reported that in additional to Minister for Agriculture, Dara Calleary, a number of other TDs and Senators were at the event, including:

  • Galway TD Noel Grealish
  • Senator Jerry Buttimer
  • Senator John Cummins
  • Senator Paul Daly
  • Senator Niall Blaney
  • Former Fine Gael Senator Cáit Kean
  • Moroccan Ambassador Lahcen Mahraoui
  • Former Labour Party Senator Lorraine Higgins
  • Former Fine Gael Senator and Sligo-Leitrim TD Gerry Reynolds
  • Former Fine Gael senator Imelda Henry
  • Circuit Court judge and former Workers' Party TD Pat McCartan
  • Supreme Court judge and former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe
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It was later confirmed the European Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan was also in attendance.

Mr Calleary tweeted to confirm he had attended the event and apologised to the public and his Government colleagues.

A spokesperson for the hotel said the event was held in a room with a partition, saying the Irish Hotels Federation confirmed the event could go ahead if there was less than 50 people on each side of the partition.

Late Thursday night, Senator Buttimer, the Leas Cathaoirleach for the Seanad, apologised for attending the event saying it was "a lapse of judgement".

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Friday, August 21st

Mr Calleary submitted his resignation to the Taoiseach due to mounting pressure to step down for the alleged breach of public health guidelines.

Mr Martin accepted Mr Calleary's resignation from his ministerial position, but will remain a TD.

Mr Martin said: "People all over the country have made very difficult, personal sacrifices in their family lives and in their businesses to comply with Covid regulations. This event should not have gone ahead in the manner it did given the Government decision of last Tuesday."

Speaking on MidWest Radio, Mr Calleary said he "should have had the cop on not to go to the event".

Senator Buttimer also tweeted a letter he sent to Seanad Cathaoirleach, Senator Mark Daly stating he would be resigning from his role as Leas Cathaoirleach.

Following the resignation from Mr Calleary and Mr Buttimer, attention turned to Commissioner Hogan and Supreme Court judge, Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe.

Commissioner Hogan tweeted to confirm he had attended the event, but offered no form of apology.

Mr Woulfe followed course, saying: "I was not aware in advance that there was going to be an organised dinner as part of the event.

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"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."

Tánaister Leo Varadkar condemned the actions of those who attended the event and announced that Mr Buttimer would be removed from the party whip, along with two fellow Fine Gael senators, Paddy Burke and John Cummins.

Mr Cummins and Fianna Fáil Senator Paul Daly apologised for attending the event.

Gardaí then confirmed they are investigating the alleged breach of Covid-19 restrictions at the event.

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.

Friday evening

Pressure continued to mount on the Government, with a number of opposition TDs calling for the Dáil to be recalled from its summer recess in order to deal with the fall out.

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said those who attended the event in Connemara showed "incredible arrogance" and that others who attended the dinner should consider their positions.

Mr Martin also removed the party whip from three Fianna Fáil Senators; Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt and Niall Blaney for their attendance.

Chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) Dr Ronan Glynn reacted to events during a late afternoon press conference, saying the golf event was “not in line with public health guidance” and “similar events should not take place in the future” while Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the event was “wrong and inexcusable”.

It then emerged that former Cavan and Monaghan TD and Independent Councillor Paudge Connolly had broken quarantine rules by attending the dinner just days after he had played golf in Spain. He apologised for attending.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald spoke to RTÉ's Six One News, where she said politicians were elected to the Dáil - which wasn't "a country club" - and the house should be sitting.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin then addressed the day's controversy in a live interview on the same programme, describing attendance at the event as a "a monumental error of judgement" that "flew in the face" of public health messaging.

The Taoiseach said he had no intention of recalling the Dáil this week.

He said that EU Commissioner Phil Hogan, who had not yet issued an apology, should issue one in understanding of the public's outrage.

Following the Taoiseach's comments, Mr Hogan apologised for the "distress caused by his participation" in the dinner in a statement issued through his spokesman.

The Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl also wrote to the secretary of the Oireachtas Golf Society, calling for it to be wound up as a matter of urgency.

Saturday, August 22nd

The Irish Examiner reported that Captain of the Guard in Leinster House, John Flaherty was also in attendance at the event. Mr Flaherty told the Examiner he did not want to comment on the event but confirmed he was a resident in the hotel.

The Oireachtas Golf Society president, Donie Cassidy apologised for the event taking place and said he will cooperate with the on-going garda investigation.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Vardakar have written to Mr Hogan asking him to "consider his position".

In a statement, Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar say Mr Hogan's apology "came late", and he still needs to give a full account of his actions.

Sunday, August 23rd

Following continued pressure, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan have agreed to ask the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl to recall the Dáil from its summer recess following the reopening of schools this week.

The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) also released a statement after a number of attendees claimed they had been assured by the hotel that the federation had said the event would comply with public health guidelines.

The IHF said that although it encourages hotels and guesthouses to comply with public health guidelines, they do not have a part in "enforcing, monitoring or implementing such guidance".

Meanwhile, EU Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan made a second apology today saying he was sorry for the "unnecessary stress, risk and offence caused to the people of Ireland" following his attendance at the Oireachtas Golf Society event in Co Galway on Wednesday.

In a statement, Mr Hogan said: "I wish to apologise fully and unreservedly for attending the Oireachtas golf society dinner on Wednesday night last."

In a further development on Sunday, the golf society’s president Donie Cassidy has resigned as vice president of Fianna Fáil.

The former TD and senator was among those involved in organising the event and made a speech at it.

Monday, August 24th

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, 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.

Meanwhile, Mr Hogan has been asked to provide more detail on his attendance at the controversial event and his possible violation of Covid-19 restrictions by President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

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.

Tuesday, August 25th

Following the request of the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, Mr Hogan supplied a detailed document to the Commission regarding his visit to Ireland.

EC Deputy Chief Spokesperson Dana Spinant added: "It is absolutely premature to discuss any sanctioning."

Elsewhere, MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace said the Government's credibility has been so badly damaged by the event that a general election is needed, however Social Democrat co-leader Róisín Shorthall said an election now would be "dangerous".

Also, Mr Hogan was reported to have stayed at a Limerick hotel and eaten at a restaurant in Adare before his 14-day self-isolation period was due to end.

According to the Irish Examiner, Mr Hogan stayed at the Dunraven Arms Hotel on August 12th.

An earlier statement from Mr Hogan previously said that he had adhered to all necessary self-isolation requirements following his arrival in Ireland.

Mr Hogan's spokesperson confirmed that he did play a round of golf at Adare Manor on August 13th but did not address his alleged stay in the county the night before.

Following Ms von der Leyen's request that Mr Hogan make a timeline of his time in Ireland available to the public, a document has been published on the European Commission website.

The document does not mention any stay at a Limerick hotel on August 12th, before the Commissioner played golf.

It also does not mention any visit to Roscommon on August 17th, as the Irish Times reported on Tuesday evening that Mr Hogan made a social visit in the county on the day in which he travelled from Co Kilkenny to Co Galway via Co Kildare in order to play golf in Galway.

In the document, Mr Hogan stated: "To the best of my knowledge and ability I believe that I complied with public health regulations in Ireland during my visit."

Mr Hogan explained that on August 5th he tested negative for Covid-19 while in hospital in Dublin, ending his requirement to quarantine.

This was later disputed with the official HSE account confirming on Twitter that regardless of a negative test result, people are required to fulfil the full 14-day isolation period.

On Tuesday night, in a joint statement, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister Eamon Ryan welcomed Mr Hogan's further apology but said "concerns remain".

The statement read: “It is clear that breaches of public health guidelines were made by Commissioner Phil Hogan since he travelled to Ireland.

“The Government guidelines clearly required him to restrict his movements for 14 days. He should also have limited his movements to and from Kildare for essential travel only, and he should not have attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner."

The statement concluded by acknowledging that “ultimately the Commissioner is accountable to the EU Commission, not to the Irish government movement or to the Oireachtas.”

Wednesday, August 26th

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen is expected to make her decision regarding Mr Hogan's position as EU Trade Commissioner later today.

Ms von der Leyen has “taken note” of last night's statement from coalition leaders which said Mr Hogan broke coronavirus rules during his trip to Ireland.

European Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant said the president was still examining the case following the submission of Mr Hogan’s report yesterday.

“It is a detailed report, it’s a report which is public, to ensure full transparency about the moves by the commissioner during that period in Ireland,” she told reporters in Brussels.

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