Four to stand trial over alleged role in Oireachtas Golfgate event

Aftermath of social occasion sparked political controversy as dinner breached Covid-19 rules

The trial of four people over their alleged role in organising the Golfgate dinner in August 2020 is due to begin on Thursday.

Independent TD Noel Grealish and former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy, along with hoteliers John Sweeney and James Sweeney, are facing charges related to organising the event that happened during pandemic restrictions.

The Oireachtas Golf Society dinner at the Station House Hotel in Clifden, Co Galway, became a matter of political controversy amid claims that it breached coronavirus rules in place at the time.

The fallout led to resignations by high-profile attendees. Then minister for agriculture Dara Calleary resigned his position, as did European commissioner Phil Hogan.

Former attorney general Séamus Woulfe was also at the event and was embroiled in controversy ahead of starting as a judge of the Supreme Court.

Six Senators – three from Fianna Fáil and three from Fine Gael – lost their party whips for almost five months after their attendance.

One of them, Senator Jerry Buttimer of Fine Gael, resigned from his position as leas cathaoirleach of the Seanad.

The case against Mr Grealish, Mr Cassidy and the two hoteliers will be heard in Galway District Court with an initial two days of hearings, on Thursday and Friday.

The trial of Mr Grealish from Carnmore in Galway, Mr Cassidy from the Square, Castlepollard in Westmeath, John Sweeney, owner of the hotel, and his son James, the general manager of the hotel, could take up to five days as there are 51 prosecution witnesses.

The four defendants face a similar summons that on August 19th, 2020, they organised, or caused to be organised, an event that contravened a penal provision of a regulation made under section 31A (1) of the Health Act 1947 as amended, to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19.

Fines and/or prison

The offence, contrary to section 31A(6)(a) and (12) of the Health Act 1947 (as amended by section 10 of the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020, is punishable by a fine of up to €2,500 and/or six months in prison.

Mr Grealish was captain of the golf society at the time of the dinner while Mr Cassidy was its president.

In October Judge Mary Fahy set aside January 6th and 7th for the opening days of the hearing.

She said third, fourth and fifth days could be scheduled if necessary.

When the matter came up in Clifden District Court in October, solicitor Sean McSweeney, representing Mr Grealish, said his client would be abroad for a week from January 8th.

The judge said this could be taken into account when setting a date for the third day of the hearing.