Hogan stopped by garda for using his phone while driving to golf dinner

EU Commissioner says he won’t resign over golf dinner but makes ‘full’ apology

EU Commissioner and former Fine Gael TD Phil Hogan was among the attendees at the Oireachtas Golf Society event. File image: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

EU Commissioner and former Fine Gael TD Phil Hogan was among the attendees at the Oireachtas Golf Society event. File image: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Phil Hogan was stopped by a garda while in Kildare, on route from Kilkenny to Clifden, for using his mobile phone while driving.

In a statement, Mr Hogan’s spokesman said: “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’s spokesman said he was cautioned and he did not receive penalty points.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Hogan’s spokesman said the Commissioner will not be resigning from his position, as controversy continued over his attendance at this week’s Oireachtas Golf Society dinner.

Mr Hogan said he wished to apologise “fully and unreservedly” for attending the event along with more than 80 people.

A Garda investigation is underway into the event, which took place just a day after the Government had decided to further limit the size of indoor gatherings under Covid-19 regulations to combat the spread of the virus.

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.

In his statement earlier on Sunday, Mr Hogan said: “I want, in particular, to apologise to the wonderful healthcare workers, who continue to put their lives on the line to combat Covid-19 and all people who have lost loved ones during this pandemic. I acknowledge my actions have touched a nerve for the people of Ireland, something for which I am profoundly sorry.

“I realise fully the unnecessary stress, risk and offense caused to the people of Ireland by my attendance at such an event, at such a difficult time for all, and I am extremely sorry for this.

“I acknowledge that the issue is far bigger than compliance with rules and regulations and adherence to legalities and procedures. All of us must display solidarity as we try to stamp out this common plague.

“I thus offer this fulsome and profound apology, at this difficult time for all people, as the world as a whole combats Covid-19.

“I spoke to both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste yesterday and I have listened carefully to their views, which I respect. I have been reporting to the President of the European Commission on all these matters in recent days.”

A spokesperson confirmed in a statement to The Irish Times that Mr Hogan would not be resigning.

Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar told RTÉ’s This Week programme that Mr Hogan’s apology on Sunday for attending the dinner in breach of public health guidelines had helped the situation.

“It would have been better if it had come sooner but it definitely helps,” he said.

“We need to make it clear to Commissioner Hogan and to the Irish people that we don’t condone his actions; we are not accountable for them; we are not going to defend them at all. It is up to him to account for his actions, to explain them and to satisfy people,” said Mr Varadkar.

‘Consider his position’

On Saturday Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Mr Varadkar asked Mr Hogan to “consider his position” as EU Commissioner after attending the event.

“They both believe that the event should never have been held, that the Commissioner’s apology came late and that he still needs to give a full account and explanations of his action,” a Government spokesperson said on Saturday.

Mr Hogan’s future as European Commissioner for Trade remains in doubt and the intervention on Saturday by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste is also likely to increase pressure on Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe, who was also in attendance at the golf dinner.

Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar have not spoken to European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen, who would have the power to remove Mr Hogan from office.

On Sunday, Labour leader Alan Kelly urged the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to “inform” Ms Von der Leyen “that they no longer have confidence” in Mr Hogan and that he should resign.

Mr Hogan’s appointment as Commissioner was ratified by the European Parliament after being nominated by the previous government.

Event duration

Meanwhile, the Oireachtas Golf Society is coming under further pressure to disclose the length of time more than 80 people were gathered at the dinner.

Under Covid-19 restrictions announced by Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar two weeks ago, restaurants were required to close at 11pm, with diners allowed only an hour and 45 minutes for their meals.

Revised restrictions announced last Tuesday – the night before the now infamous golf dinner – extended the closing time until 11.30pm, with table numbers capped at six people.

One of those in attendance at Wednesday night’s dinner at the Station House Hotel in Clifden, Co Galway, said it started shortly after 9pm.

There were a choice of three starters, including soup, pate and “some vegetarian or salady thing”, followed by a choice of three main courses, including salmon and lamb, and a choice of three desserts.

After the meal there were four separate speeches, including from society captain and Independent TD Noel Grealish and Fianna Fáil councillor Donagh Killilea, who spoke on behalf of his family.

The dinner was organised to pay tribute to his late father, the former Fianna Fáil MEP and TD Mark Killilea, as well as mark the society’s 50th anniversary.

The now resigned minister for agriculture Dara Calleary also made a speech commemorating the late Mr Killilea.

There was also a prize-giving, and according to one person present, families of winners took time to take photos.

It is understood former Fine Gael minister Mr Hogan won one of the prizes, a George Foreman grill.

One attendee couldn’t recall what time people left the function room, saying some stayed on to talk afterwards before everyone “scattered”.

“It’s impossible to say, I wasn’t conscious of time,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

‘Multiple breaches’

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald told The Irish Times she was concerned “to hear reports of multiple breaches of public health guidelines” at the event.

“We know the number of attendees exceeded the limit, but it has now been alleged that the event also lasted far longer than the time limit permitted,” she said.

“The public needs to know if multiple breaches of the guidelines occurred.

“I would ask those present at the dinner to clarify whether the length of time was compliant with the regulations and to be clear about how many regulation breaches took place. The attendees must be up-front about what happened and how the rules were breached. ”

Ms McDonald said the Irish public was “understandably concerned about what happened and this drip feed of information and allegations risks undermining confidence in the public health guidelines at this critical time in the fight against Covid-19”.

Some attendees stayed at rooms in the hotel where the dinner took place and others stayed in at least two other hotels in the town. Some remained on at the hotel lounge in the lobby afterwards.

“We were assured everything was in order,” one said.

“It was a cock up anyway, with the benefit of hindsight. The dinner shouldn’t have taken place.”

As well as the more than 80 attendees, there was “a pile” of staff, with one or two waiters assigned to each table, according to one of the diners.

Restrictions state staff should be included when calculating maximum numbers, meaning the gathering was several multiples of the latest allowed number of six for indoor gatherings, and comfortably more than the previous cap of 50.

Mr Cassidy has said he will fully cooperate with a Garda investigation into the affair.

Under Covid-19 regulations it is a criminal offence to organise an event with a larger number of people than is permitted by the regulations.

All-expenses trip

The scandal is not the first time the Oireachtas Golf Society has courted controversy.

In the summer of 2010, the society went on an all-expenses paid trip to Turkey for official celebrations of the 90th anniversary of the Turkish parliament, which had organised a golf tournament for parliamentarians from around the globe.

Among those travelling were Mr Cassidy, Mr Grealish and then Carlow Kilkenny TD Mr Hogan.

Then leader of the Seanad Mr Cassidy was forced to deny claims on his return that he had refused to reopen the Upper House alongside the Dáil the same week because he and his golfing colleagues were staying at the five star Sueno Hotels Golf Belek resort in the popular coastal resort Antalya.

“I gave up my whole bloody weekend in the name of Ireland,” he said of his trip to Turkey at the time.