Phil Hogan apologises but insists he will not resign after attending golf dinner

EU commissioner says he did not come from Kildare to event with more than 80 people

EU commissioner Phil Hogan attended the golf event in Co Galway with about 80 other people during Covid-19 restrictions. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

EU commissioner Phil Hogan attended the golf event in Co Galway with about 80 other people during Covid-19 restrictions. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

European Union trade commissioner Phil Hogan did not travel from Kildare to Connemara in violation of Covid-19 restrictions when he went to an Oireachtas golf event, his spokesman has said, and he will not be resigning from his position.

The former Fine Gael minister is under scrutiny over his attendance at a golf dinner in Co Galway with more than 80 people present earlier this week.

The event, which was organised by the Oireachtas Golf Society, was in apparent violation of Covid-19 restrictions.

Since late June, indoor gatherings have been restricted to 50 people under the Government’s public health controls in a bid to stop the spread of Covid-19. Further restrictions announced this week identified only weddings and artistic and cultural events as being allowed to have groups of up to 50.

On Friday evening the Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he believed Mr Hogan should apologise for attending the dinner. “I think he should apologise, and I think he should be far more fulsome in his response to this,” he said.

“I would like a meaningful response to the mood of the public and the anger of the public towards this issue,” Mr Martin said.

Later Mr Hogan’s spokesman said the commissioner “does apologise for any distress caused by his attendance” at the dinner.

Visitors arriving into Ireland from Belgium, where Mr Hogan is based, are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to Ireland.

Earlier it was confirmed Mr Hogan was self-isolating in Kildare – where he is understood to have a residence at the K-Club – after his return from Brussels until August 5th, when he travelled to Dublin for a medical appointment.

He stayed overnight at a health facility in Dublin, during which time he was also tested for Covid-19, with negative results, and then travelled to Kilkenny for a period of convalescence, according to his spokesman.

He then travelled to Connemara for the golf event this week. Mr Hogan had been in contact with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen today, his spokesman added, and she had accepted his explanation.

Dara Calleary resigned on Friday morning as Minister for Agriculture after his attendance at the golf dinner provoked political controversy.

Another attendee Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer, confirmed he had resigned from his position as leas cathaoirleach of the Seanad.

In a statement, Mr Hogan said he attended the dinner on Wednesday “on the clear understanding that the organisers and the hotel concerned had been assured by the Irish Hotels’ Federation that the arrangements proposed to be put in place would be in compliance with the government’s guidelines.”

Mr Hogan said before the event he had “complied fully with the Government’s quarantine requirements, having been in Ireland since late July.”

Mr Hogan is a senior figure in the EU commission with the trade portfolio, one of the most high-profile positions.

Reports of his attendance at the event, first reported by The Irish Examiner on Thursday night, gained international media attention.

A spokesman for Mr Hogan refused to provide further details on his movements prior to the dinner, other than to state the commissioner did not breach any lockdown rules to attend the event.

‘In good faith’

In a statement, an EU commission spokeswoman said Mr Hogan had attended the event in “good faith, on the clear understanding” it would be in compliance with public health guidelines.

Mr Hogan’s attendance at the hotel dinner was also raised at the commission’s midday press briefing on Friday. Speaking at the briefing, a commission spokeswoman said: “Obviously, with hindsight, had he known it would not be in compliance with rules and guidelines established by the Irish authorities, he would not have attended it, because it is important for him to act responsibly in matters regarding Covid-19.

“I can only repeat that he attended this event in good faith [that guidelines would be followed] ... Of course with hindsight he regrets that this seems to have not been the case,” she said.

When asked if commission president Ursula von der Leyen had spoken to Mr Hogan about the matter, the spokeswoman said the president was in regular contact with all commissioners, and had been “informed about the matter.”

“But it is not for us here at the commission to comment further on the number of people who attended the event, or whether the event was or wasn’t compliant with the guidelines and regulations introduced by the Irish Government,” the spokeswoman said.

Independent MEP Luke Ming Flanagan said Mr Hogan should have to abide by the same standards as Mr Calleary and resign from his post.

Mr Flanagan said he had written to Ms von der Leyen asking the president to remove Mr Hogan from his role.

Chris MacManus, Sinn Féin MEP for Midlands North-West, said he was “deeply concerned” over Mr Hogan’s decision to attend the event.

“It is an action that risks undermining public confidence in Covid-19 regulations. Many ordinary families have made considerable sacrifices to curb the increase of Covid-19 cases,” he said.

The Sinn Féin MEP called on Mr Hogan to make a public statement clarifying his actions. The commissioner “has serious questions to answer about why he attended this event and why he thought the event was acceptable,” Mr MacManus said.

Mr Hogan was previously minister for the environment, community and local government in the Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition, before being appointed EU commissioner for agriculture in 2014, and later commissioner for trade.

Earlier this year, Mr Hogan had floated a potential candidacy to be the next director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), but later decided against going forward for the role.

The table plan for the golfing society event in Clifden listed 82 people for the dinner with up to 10 people per table. According to one person who attended, the organisers had satisfied themselves after consulting with the hotel that they were operating within the official guidelines.

However, sources said the partition between the two rooms was pulled back for the speeches. A person staying at the hotel with his family told The Irish Times he saw no evidence of social distancing when he witnessed the attendees arriving.