#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 15°C Friday 30 October 2020
Advertisement

Government plunged into turmoil as public anger grows in wake of golf dinner controversy

The resignation of Dara Calleary this morning began a day of chaos and confusion for the government.

Updated Aug 21st 2020, 8:30 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said that he ‘understands fully’ the anger of people feel about the Oireachtas Golf Society event in Clifen, as his government faced a wave of public outcry amid questions about how a dinner for over 80 people was allowed to take place. 

This morning, Minister for Agriculture Dara Calleary resigned in the wake of revelations he attended the golf function at a hotel on Wednesday night. 

Originally reported by the Irish Examiner last night, Calleary was among a number of politicians who attended the Oireachtas Golf Society event in Clifden in Galway.

Eighty-one people attended the event, with the room divided into two. The Examiner reported that up to 10 people were seated at tables.

cabinet 381 File photo. Dara Calleary. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

The event has become a major scandal for the government, amid claims it perpetuates the idea that there’s “one rule for them and another for us” and that, instead of being in it together during the pandemic, it has sent out the message of “do as we say, not as we do”

This evening, Micheál Martin said that he “understands fully why people were so angry”. 

“It should not have happened,” he said in an interview with RTÉ News, “calling it a monumental error of judgement on behalf of all of those who attended and I’m deeply disappointed myself at what transpired”. 

He said that Calleary’s resignation “was an important message to give”. 

Accepting his resignation earlier, Martin said Calleary had “made the right decision for the country, particularly in the light of our continued efforts to suppress Covid-19″.

Last night, the Fianna Fáil TD apologised “unreservedly” for attending the event.

“In light of the updated public health guidance this week I should not have attended the event. I wish to apologise unreservedly to everyone. We are asking quite a lot from everyone at this difficult time,” Calleary said.

He had been due to appear on a number of breakfast radio programmes this morning, but a spokesperson said that he was no longer available. 

Speaking to Midwest Radio later in the morning, Calleary said he “made a big mistake” and decided to resign after issuing his initial apology last night. 

“I made a big mistake. I shouldn’t have gone to the function. I didn’t want to let people down and I take responsibility for that mistake,” the TD said.  

“I’ve let people down, I’ve angered a lot of people, I’ve stressed a lot of people that had to make very difficult calls in the last six months about family funerals etc. 

“I just want to apologise to all of those I have let down and I want to work incredibly hard to try and regain peoples’ trust.”  

Calleary said he was informed the hotel received social distancing guidance in advance of the event.

“But the new regulations came in in the meantime and there was a crossover there,” he said. 

Calleary added that as a member of the Cabinet responsible for deciding the new regulations, he “should have been aware of them”. 

“Given that the new regulations had come in, I should have had the cop on not to go the function and not to be part of any big function, which we can’t be for these few weeks.”

file-photo-minister-dara-calleary-has-resigned-from-cabinet-after-apologising-for-attending-an-event-with-more-than-80-people-earlier-this-week-end File photo. Micheál Martin with Dara Calleary. Source: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

In his statement this morning, the Taoiseach said: “His attendance at this event was wrong and an error of judgement on his part. I have accepted his resignation. People all over the country have made very difficult, personal sacrifices in their family lives and in their businesses to comply with Covid regulations.

This event should not have gone ahead in the manner it did given the Government decision of last Tuesday.
Dara Calleary, since he was first elected to Dail Eireann has been, and remains, a committed and dedicated public representative. This error of judgement was out of character.

Calleary becomes the second agriculture minister to resign since the government was formed earlier this summer, after Barry Cowen’s departure in July

Apologies

Throughout the day, pressure grew on other politicians and senior figures to respond to the events that took place in the hotel. 

On RTÉ Radio One’s Liveline programme, various callers used the opportunity to vent their anger, confusion and pain as details emerged about the event. 

This evening, EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan, a former Carlow-Kilkenny TD for Fine Gael, clarified that he did apologise for his attendance at the dinner. A spokesperson said that “he would not have attended if he understood it was not in compliance with public health guidelines”. 

Earlier, he had said it was his “clear understanding” that the organisers and the hotel had been assured by the Irish Hotels’ Federation that the arrangements would comply with government guidelines. 

“Prior to the event, I had complied fully with the government’s quarantine requirements, having been in Ireland since late July.”

Hogan was also forced to clarify his own movements in the days before the event, with a spokesperson insisting that the commissioner had left Kildare two days before a localised lockdown came into effect. 

Hogan tested negative for Covid-19 after arriving into Ireland and initially spent time in Kildare before staying in Kilkenny, the spokesperson said. They also said that he had restricted his movements upon entering the country. 

Earlier Fine Gael senators Jerry Buttimer and John Cummins also apologised for attending Wednesday’s event, with Buttimer resigning has role as Leas Cathaoirleach of the Seanad .

This morning, in a statement to Galway Bay FM, independent TD Noel Grealish apologised and said he’d made an error in judgement. 

Senator Paul Daly tweeted that he was “truly sorry” and “apologised unreservedly” for attending the event.

Senator Aidan Davitt also apologised “unreservedly”. “In light of the updated public health advice issued on Tuesday, I should not have attended this dinner,” he said on Twitter.

Supreme Court judge, and former Attorney General, Seamus Woulfe apologised “unreservedly” for attending the event and said he was of the impression that the organisers of the event had made sure that the dinner would be in compliance with the regulations. 

“I would never disregard governmental or health authorities advice regarding public health, and have been at pains to follow rules and guidelines since their introduction in March,” Woulfe said. “That I ended up in a situation where breaches may have occurred, is of great regret to me, and for which I am sorry.”

TheJournal.ie understands that the judge never saw the formal invitation to the event, which detailed the fact a dinner would be included. 

file-photo-eu-commissioner-phil-hogan-also-attended-the-80-person-dinner-which-led-to-the-resignation-of-minister-dara-calleary-end File photo. Phil Hogan. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Recriminations

The pressure has ramped up today against the government over the event. Tonight, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said it was clear the event shouldn’t have taken place, but stressed that the “virus couldn’t care less about anger”. 

Covid-19 is “only waiting for an opportunity, anger, or complacency, or any other emotion that will trip us up as a community and stop us adhering to the public health advice”. 

Health minister Stephen Donnelly, pressed by reporters as he announced that restrictions would continue in Kildare for another two weeks, called the event “wrong” and “inexcusable”.

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

“What happened sends out the wrong message to every man, woman and child in this country who have made sacrifices,” he said.

The controversy could also spell the end for the Oireachtas Golf Society, which several serving TDs said today they’d never even heard of. 

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl has requested that the Oireachtas Golf Society be wound up. 

In a statement this evening, Ó Fearghaíl said that the society should be disbanded.

“While recognising that the Golf Society operates independently of the Oireachtas I write to suggest that, in the aftermath of this week’s events in Clifden, the society as it is currently structured and named be wound up as a matter of urgency,” he said.

Gardaí have launched an investigation over the event. In a statement, it said would probe alleged breaches of the The Health Act 1947 (Section 31A-Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No.3) Regulations 2020, as amended.

As gardaí have begun an investigation, a file may be submitted to the DPP if breaches of the legislation are identified. 

The Irish Hotels Federation has said that it sought clarification from the Department of Tourism on indoor gatherings prior to the event and said that it had advised all its members that “the status quo remains in terms of current operational procedures for hotels until further notice”. 

Martin has also removed the party whip from three Fianna Fáil senators who attended the event, while Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has done likewise with a further three Fine Gael senators

Varadkar said the event should not have been held and that he understood the difficulty that months of Covid-19 restrictions have had for people.

“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.”

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Minister for Education Norma Foley described Calleary’s actions as a “very serious error of judgement”. 

“It absolutely should not have happened,” she said. “Dara has made a fullsome apology.”

Foley said his apology and resignation was a “measure of the man” and he had shown “leadership” through his actions.

She was asked if others at the event should resign but said it was a “matter for each individual” and that Calleary had taken “appropriate action”. 

Public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally told RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney that the event undermines the public health messages around Covid-19.

“The message it gives out is ‘do as we say, not as we do’,” he said. “That’s not good enough for public leaders… this is absolutely wrong.”

The Cathaoirleach of Galway county James Charity, meanwhile, 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’”.

With reporting from Dominic McGrath, Órla Ryan and Orla Dwyer

About the author:

Sean Murray

Read next:

COMMENTS (390)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel