Golfgate court hearing could last 5 days as over 50 witnesses to be heard

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

THE CASE AGAINST two prominent politicians and two hoteliers over their alleged role in organising the controversial ‘Golfgate’ dinner during Covid restrictions last year will get under way in early January and could now take five days to be heard as there are over 50 witnesses.

Judge Mary Fahy set aside 6 and 7 January for the opening days of the hearing when the matter came before Clifden District Court this morning, and said that the case will be heard in Galway District Court.

In July, when the matter came before the courts for the first time, it was stated that the case could take three days when it goes to hearing but State solicitor for Galway William Kennedy told Judge Fahy it could now run to five days as there are 51 prosecution witnesses.

None of the four men appeared during the 12-minute hearing at Clifden District Court in Connemara this morning, but all four were legally represented.

They were summoned in relation to an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner which took place at the Station House Hotel in the Connemara town in August 2020.

Independent TD Noel Grealish (55) from Carnmore in Galway and former Fianna Fail senator Donie Cassidy (76) from The Square, Castlepollard in Westmeath, were summoned before the court.

John Sweeney (61), owner of the Station House Hotel in Clifden, and his son James (32), the general manager of the hotel, were also before the court on a similar summons.

The four face a similar summons that on 19 August 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.

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.

Deputy Grealish was captain of the Oireachtas Golf Society at the time of the event and Mr Cassidy was president.

EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan, Minister for Agriculture Dara Calleary, and leas cathaoirleach of the Seanad Jerry Buttimer, all resigned their positions last year after attending the function.

Legal representatives for the State and the four men suggested that the matter come before the November sitting of Clifden District Court for further mention but Judge Fahy said she was anxious to set a date for the start of the hearing.

She said that Covid restrictions presented logistical difficulties in a case of this size and that it should take place in the main building at Galway District Court and not at Galway Rowing Club which is regularly used to cater for extra court space.

Judge Fahy said that getting free days was difficult as the courts were so busy but that January 6 and 7 have been set aside and could be used for the opening day of the hearing and that disclosure and other matters between the parties could be worked out between them in between.

“I can’t give five days at the moment. We will get two days done and then go on and fix another day for the third day, fourth and fifth day if necessary,” she said.

“All courts around the country are packed at the moment and I’m anxious to not just to move this case on, but all cases on my list.”

Judge Fahy said she did not see any merit in listing the matter for mention in the November sitting of Clifden District Court and she said that when the hearing did get under way it should start at the earlier time of 10am each day.

Solicitor Sean McSweeney, representing Deputy Noel Grealish, said his client would be abroad for a week from 8 January. Judge Fahy said this could be taken into account when setting a date for the third day of the hearing.

She adjourned the matter to Thursday 6 January to Galway District Court for hearing at 10am.