Varadkar pledges to examine whip rules amid Golfgate fallout

Three senators lost Fine Gael whip over their attendance at golf society dinner in Clifden

A meeting between Mr Varadkar and the three men took place on Tuesday, described as ‘frank’ and far from acrimonious. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has pledged to examine the rules around removing the party whip from Fine Gael members following disquiet over sanctions imposed after Golfgate dinner.

Mr Varadkar gave a detailed response to concerns raised by three party senators during a lengthy meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Wednesday night.

Three senators - Jerry Buttimer, Paddy Burke and John Cummins - lost the Fine Gael whip for six months over their attendance at the dinner in Clifden two years ago. Mr Buttimer also resigned as leas-cathaoirleach of the Seanad.

Mr Varadkar met the three senators individually on Tuesday. Sources he outlined the course of events at the time and why he took the actions he did.


At the parliamentary party meeting, Mr Burke questioned the procedures that were used to remove the party whip. Sources said he expressed a view that the parliamentary party should have been consulted before any decision on removing the whip was made.

Mr Varadkar told TDs and Senators he would examine the concerns raised and look at the party rules and also committed to including a recognition of the recent Golfgate acquittals in the official minutes of the meeting.

Earlier this month, a District Court judge dismissed charges against four men accused of organising the Oireachtas Society Golf dinner in a Clifden hotel two years ago.

Independent TD Noel Grealish and former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy, along with hoteliers John Sweeney and James Sweeney, had denied they organised the Oireachtas Golf Society event in breach of pandemic restrictions at the Station House Hotel in Clifden on August 19th, 2020.

At the parliamentary party meeting , Mr Varadkar gave a comprehensive statement about the sequence of events two years ago and outlined how the Government had announced a range of new restrictions in the days leading up to the dinner in Clifden.

Sources described the meeting as “long and strange” and said there were sharp words between Mr Varadkar and Bernard Durkan after Mr Durkan said the party needed to stick together more and raised concerns about its future performance in elections.

Mr Varadkar also gave an update on Covid-19 including the forthcoming relaxation of rules on masks and changes to PCR testing.

Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard questioned why, under new rules, those who are over 55 and unboosted will be offered free tests. He was told tests could cost the State €150-€200 for those in this group and that it was being done to protect those who would be most vulnerable.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times