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Ceann Comhairle says Clifden golf event was either 'collective crass stupidity' or 'arrogant delusion'

There was public fury over revelations that around 80 guests, including serving and former politicians, attended the golf dinner.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said he has asked the Oireachtas golf society to consider disbanding itself.
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said he has asked the Oireachtas golf society to consider disbanding itself.
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE GOLF DINNER in Clifden last month has damaged public confidence in the Dáil, according to the Ceann Comhairle Sean O’Fearghail.

In a blistering attack on the first day the Dáil returns after the summer recess, he said there were serious public health breaches at the event.

While he said everyone makes mistakes, he said it was not normal for intelligent people to make a collective decision that was fundamentally wrong, calling it either “collective crass stupidity” or “arrogant delusion”.

There was public fury over revelations that around 80 guests, including serving and former politicians, attended a golf dinner in a Co Galway hotel just a day after the government had announced strict new measures.

Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary – who sat at the Cabinet table as the new measures were decided – was forced to resign his position as Agriculture Minister after he attended the function.

Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer also quit his role as deputy chairman of the Seanad. Six serving senators – three each from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, including Buttimer – have been thrown out of their parliamentary parties.

Fine Gael’s Phil Hogan was also forced to step down as EU Trade Commissioner. A report is being compiled into the attendance of former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe at the event.

In his opening statement ahead of Leaders’ Questions today, the Ceann Comharile said the holding of the dinner by the “self-styled” Oireachtas Golf Society was “indefensibly wrong”.

He said the society was never formally established or subvented by the Houses of the Oireachtas.

“We all make mistakes. There is not one among us who, if he or she had his or her time over, would not change his or her approach to some issues or perhaps not engage with certain situations at all. That is perfectly normal. What is not normal however, is for well-intentioned, intelligent and otherwise competent people to make a collective decision that is in itself fundamentally wrong,” he said.

“Serious and indefensible breaches of public health regulations occurred on 19 August in Clifden… The event and the circumstances which flowed from it have damaged public confidence in our public system, and confidence was not high at the best of times. Confidence in this Dáil has been damaged. As we gather today, it is incumbent upon us to collectively commit to working together to rebuild confidence in our parliamentary system.

“As legislators, we make the rules, but the rules apply to everyone and there can be no exceptions or special treatment. There must be fairness, consistency and solidarity as we tackle the scourge of Covid-19,” he said.

“Those who seek to fan the flames of understandable public anger are not serving the public interest. Nor was the public interest served by the sort of conduct we witnessed here on 30 July, in our closing session. If public confidence in the Thirty-third Dáil is to be restored, then the public must be satisfied that the Dáil can conduct its business in a manner that is respectful, constructive and as collegial as any political system can be.

“Those who advocate crude majoritarianism are as misguided as those who would shout down alternative voices. Again, I put it to Members that we must strive to actively listen to each other, work together and demonstrate to the Irish public that our one and only objective is to serve the best interests of that public,” he said.

O’Fearghail said he has asked the Oireachtas golf society to consider disbanding itself. He has also asked the Clerk of the Dáil to establish whether there are any other groups in existence operating under the Oireachtas name and symbol and to report on this at the earliest possible date to the Committee on Procedure.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald today said there is a deep dysfunction at the heart of the government. She said the golf event shows that the “old boys club” rose to the surface again. Meanwhile, Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall said the event showed that the “golden circle” was alive and well in politics.

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People Before Profit Mick Barry said the event gave a “collective two fingers” to the public, stating that the decisions made on the golf course between powerful people are not minuted or open to scrutiny.

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