Von der Leyen requests clarifications after Hogan hands over dossier on golf dinner

Taoiseach confirms Calleary has also resigned as Fianna Fáil deputy leader

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan who has been asked for more information by  European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Photograph: Bloomberg

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan who has been asked for more information by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Photograph: Bloomberg

 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has asked for further clarification from Ireland’s Commissioner Phil Hogan after receiving a dossier describing his movements in the country because “details count” a spokeswoman has said.

Mr Hogan is under pressure after it emerged that initial statements by his spokesman claiming he travelled “directly” from Co Kilkenny to the controversial golf event in Co Galway were incorrect.

Mr Hogan’s team have since admitted he returned to Co Kildare on his way to the golf event, to collect items from his residence at the K-Club, and was stopped by gardaí in the county for using his mobile phone while driving.

A spokesman for the European Commission had on Friday also repeated that Mr Hogan travelled to Co Galway “directly”.

“This is a matter that requires careful assessment on our side. This is a matter where details count. Therefore the president has requested Commission Hogan to provide a full report covering the matters,” European Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant said.

“The President has received such a report from Commissioner Hogan last night. She is now looking at it. Details are important as I said. The President has requested further clarifications because details are important and she wishes to have them.”

Trade portfolio

Ms von der Leyen has the power to dismiss Mr Hogan, who is in charge of the vital trade portfolio at a time of crucial sensitivity amid a trade war between the United States and China and with time running out to clinch agreement with Britain about its future trade relations with the EU following Brexit.

Ms Spinant said that so far the Commission’s work on trade had been able to continue, and that it was vital that this remained the case.

“It’s important to ensure that nothing distracts the Commission from its very important work, in particular at these times when we need to deal with a serious crisis provoked by the Coronavirus, ” the spokeswoman said.

Mr Hogan had presented a dossier to Ms von der Leyen last night and was then subsequently asked for more detail.

The Commission spokeswoman indicated she expected Mr Hogan, who has yet to appear in public to take questions from journalists, would make a public appearance.

“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 to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. Many have lost loved ones, many have been ill and others have suffered from the restrictions,” Ms Spinant said.

“So this is why it is important that rules are respected. This is a matter not just on respecting the rules but this is also a matter of public health. There are legal aspects involved and there are moral aspects involved as well.”

It is understood Mr Hogan’s dossier has not yet been provided to senior members of the Irish Government.

The Government will now await Ms von der Leyen’s judgment on the report and any additional information from Mr Hogan.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has not spoken to Ms von der Leyen about Mr Hogan’s future, indicating that, if she is satisfied with the former Fine Gael minister’s explanations, the Government will not seek his removal as commissioner.

Officials in Dublin and Brussels said she is expected to make a decision about Mr Hogan’s future after considering his account.

Ms von der Leyen, who is said by her spokesman to be “following the situation closely”, requested the detailed report from Mr Hogan about his attendance at the dinner and travel in Ireland prior to the event after new revelations emerged.

Senior politicians

Mr Hogan was one of more than 80 people, including a number of senior politicians and a member of the judiciary, who attend the dinner in Clifden, Co Galway last Wednesday, in apparent contravention of Covid-19 restrictions.

Taioseach Micheál Martin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/
Taioseach Micheál Martin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/

On Monday Martin said a statement he issued on Saturday evening with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar calling for Mr Hogan to consider his position was released after emerged that he had been stopped by gardaí, Micheál Martin said on Friday.

Mr Martin said on Monday he was very angry over the dinner in Galway and said it should not have happened.

Mr Martin also confirmed that Dara Calleary, who resigned as Minister for Agriculture on Friday, has also resigned as deputy leader of Fianna Fáil.

Yesterday Mr Hogan’s spokesman confirmed he went from Kilkenny to the K-Club on his way to Clifden last week to collect personal belongings and “essential” work papers.

In a statement, Mr Hogan’s spokesman said the commissioner was stopped by a garda for using his mobile phone while driving while he was in Kildare en route to Clifden. “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.

On Saturday evening, following consultations with the Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar called for Mr Hogan to “consider his position”.

Uncompromising note

Mr Varadkar sounded a less uncompromising note on Sunday when he said Mr Hogan’s second - and more contrite - apology “definitely helps”.

However, Mr Varadkar said he needed to provide further explanations, especially about whether he may have broken the terms of the local lockdown in Co Kildare, where he has a residence at the K-Club golf resort.

“He needs to answer any questions that people have,” Mr Varadkar said. “That’s not just in relation to the dinner, it’s also any questions that might arise from his movements within the country and his movements in and out of Co Kildare.”

If Mr Hogan is unable to do this, “then he needs to consider his position”.

Meanwhile, gardaí have been in contact with staff at the Station House Hotel in Clifden, where the Oireachtas Golf Society function was held.

The Garda investigation into the gathering is focused on how the event was organised. Under current Covid-19 regulations, organising a large event is not permitted. The ban or organising an event is a penal provision meaning any proven breach is a criminal offence, though attending an event is not prohibited by law.