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Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary who resigned as Agriculture Minister earlier today. Photocall Ireland

'A thundering and lightning disgrace': The nation's anger after Oireachtas Golf Society event

RTÉ’s Liveline received calls from members of the public expressing anger and disappointment over the event.

THE ANGER OF people in Ireland today is best told through the words of callers to RTÉ radio’s Liveline this afternoon. 

It’s been an eventful day in the Irish political sphere, beginning with a ministerial resignation from Dara Calleary this morning. A slew of apologies and party whip removals have followed as the day progressed. 

Last night, the Irish Examiner first reported that 81 people attended an Oireachtas Golf Society event in Clifden, Co Galway on Wednesday. Stricter public health measures had been imposed by government the day before. 

Several politicians and senior members of society attended the event, including Calleary, EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan and several senators and Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe

The Examiner alleged that up to 10 people were seated at each table. 

The event appears to have breached public health guidelines, which state that no events, parties or gatherings involving more than six people should be held indoors. Gardaí are investigating the incident. 

The story has even generated coverage abroad in the New York Timesthe Guardian and the BBC among other publications.  

James Charity, an independent councillor, earlier said it was arrogant for people to attend the event the day after new restrictions were introduced, adding it “smacks of ‘one rule for them and another for us’”.

“I am appalled to see the good name of our county once again dragged into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons by the antics of a Fianna Fáil government and one of its ministers,” Charity said.

This sentiment was echoed by callers to RTÉ’s Liveline this afternoon.

Veronica from Galway was the first Liveline caller. Her brother-in-law passed away in recent months and she was unable to physically attend his funeral.

“I sat outside the church… and I sat in the car and waited there. I couldn’t go into the church and be with my sister and family,” she said.  

“I am livid at this and I cannot put it into words how angry I am. These are the people that are supposed to be representing us on the ground.

“My biggest issue is with the people who went in there and had no thought for the welfare of the people in the country,” Vernonica added. 

57-year-old Thomas was also personally affected by Covid-19 restrictions. His mother died in March and his family was unable to hold regular funeral proceedings.

“She literally died on her own in a nursing home, no one around her, no family. I’m still suffering every day thinking of this and it just enrages me. These people need to sit up and listen to the people of Ireland.

“I am just in total shock here… I’m disgusted,” he said upon learning of last Wednesday’s event.

There [were] 12 people at my mother’s funeral, and it wasn’t even a funeral. We all just stood in the graveyard, waited until the coffin was in the ground and looked on. 

“I couldn’t even hug my sister, my brother.

“Every one of them that was there should go… I listen to my bosses in work, why can’t they listen to their boss?”

“All the apologies in the world won’t help it.” 

Another caller, Paddy, described the incident as a “thundering disgrace”. 

A later caller named Bernie cited his comment and added: “I am saying it’s a thundering and lightning disgrace for the behaviour of our public representatives.”  

She said she was “angry” and “frustrated” with the recent revelations. 

Political response

Today, politicians who were not in attendance took to Twitter and the airwaves to express their disappointment and anger. 

In a statement on Twitter, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the event should not have been held.

“Funerals, christenings, weddings, family holidays and other really important family occasions have been foregone to protect each other and the most vulnerable,” he said.

“As representatives we should lead by example.”

As party leader he removed the Fine Gael whip from Senators Jerry Buttimer, Paddy Burke and John Cummins after they attended the event. All three senators apologised. 

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris also condemned politicians’ attendance at the event.

The former Health Minister wrote on Twitter: “We have all worked so hard for so long. People have sacrificed so much. I am struggling to put words on how shocking & upsetting I find what has happened.”

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin earlier today removed the Fianna Fáil party whip from Senators Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt and Niall Blaney after they attended the function 

Fine Gael Senator and leader of the Seanad Regina Doherty called the event a “stunning lapse of judgement” and called on Phil Hogan to apologise to the public for attending.

“The very least that needs to be done is a recognition that it was wrong and it shouldn’t have happened,” she told RTÉ radio. “What I would love to see is an apology.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney, Dr Gabriel Scally said he was “shocked” politicians and other senior figures in society attended the event.

Scally is the President of Epidemiology and Public Health at the Royal Society of Medicine. 

I’m very shocked. I think it’s a terrible event and I’m very saddened because the battle against Covid-19 in Ireland has, until very recent times, been going extraordinarily well. 

“The message it gives out is ‘do as we say, not as we do’, and that’s not good enough for public leaders. No matter what post they hold in civil society, whether it’s an elected post or an appointed post like a judge, this is absolutely wrong.” 

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