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Independent TD Noel Grealish arriving at the Galway court . Alamy Stock Photo
Galway District Court

Golfgate trial: Judge dismisses charges against all four defendants

The trial of two politicians and two hoteliers has completed.

LAST UPDATE | 3 Feb 2022

THE CHARGES AGAINST all defendants in the ‘Golfgate’ trial have been dismissed by Judge Mary Fahy in Galway District Court. 

The decision was handed down by the judge this afternoon following the completion of the State’s evidence. Defence counsel for each of the four defendants did not call any witnesses in response but argued that the charges were not proven. 

Independent TD Noel Grealish (55), former Fianna Fail senator Donie Cassidy (76), John Sweeney (61), owner of the Station House Hotel in Clifden, and his son James (32), the general manager of the hotel all faced charges in relation to Oireachtas Golf Society in August 2020. 

The State alleged that the four men were organisers of the event and that the event contravened laws enacted to minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19.

The State had argued that the men “did not take all reasonable steps” to ensure that the number of persons at the event did not exceed 50 persons.

It was acknowledged by all sides that there were 80 people having dinner as part of the event but the defendants argued that the diners were split by a partition was that was “soundproofed” and “clearly defined two areas”.  

Delivering her verdict this afternoon, the judge said that the defendants complied with the regulations “not in the court of public opinion but in the court of law”. 

The judge said that the event took place “in two distinct areas in a very large hotel”. 

The judge said the court heard evidence that was “most impressive” from Mr Justice Seánus Woulfe as former Oireachtas captain of the guard John Flaherty.

“They are all responsible people who would not have gone to a dinner if they did not feel comfortable ,” the judge said. 

So I have no doubt that the organisers, in conjunction with the proprietors did everything they could to comply and in my view they did comply, not in the court of public opinion but in the court of law. 
Unfortunately, as a result of this dinner very good people lost very good positions and contracts. But I want to make it clear that I didn’t make my decision based on that. 

“So I’m dismissing the charges against all four defendants,” the judge concluded. 

Michael McDowell SC for Grealish had argued that his client did not organise the President’s Dinner at the centre of the case and had “no case to answer”. 

McDowell said that Grealish, as Captain of the Society, was “responsible for some aspects of the first day” of the two-day event but that there was “no dinner” on day one. 

The judge agreed with this assessment, saying that there was no direct evidence that he was one of the organisers. 

McDowell also said that the court was dealing with “a very serious matter” telling the judge that “you saw one person’s career was destroyed by this”, a reference to Dara Calleary TD who gave evidence today. 

Dara Calleary

former-minister-for-agriculture-dara-calleary-td-arriving-at-galway-court-for-a-hearing-where-four-people-are-accused-of-breaching-covid-restrictions-by-organising-an-oireachtas-golf-society-event-pi Dara Calleary TD arriving at the Galway court today. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Giving evidence at the trial earlier today, former minister Calleary said that he was “very comfortable” during his time at the event that Covid-19 regulations were being adhered to. 

TD for Mayo Calleary, who is not on trial, resigned as agriculture minister after his attendance at the August 2020 Oireachtas Golf Society dinner was revealed. 

Speaking today at the trial of the two politicians and two hoteliers, Calleary said he was asked to speak at the dinner which was being held held to honour the late Mark Killilea.

Calleary said that he was not involved in the golf element of the event, telling the court that he is not a golfer. 

“I don’t play golf, I’m not a member of the society,” he said. 

Calleary said that he was “honoured” to ask to speak at the event honouring Killilea, a former Fianna Fáil politician. 

“I attended on the basis that all regulations in place would be be adhered to and I was fully confident that they were,” he says. 

We arrived into the hotel at six o’clock and from when we arrived at the hotel to the following morning when we left it was very clear that every precaution has been taken in relation to Covid-19 guidelines. 

The trial had heard repeated details of a partition wall that was in place to separate groups of diners.

Answering questions from Eoghan Cole BL for the State, Calleary said that there were “45 or 46″ people in the room and that he wasn’t aware of other people “from where I was sitting”. 

He told the court that when he stood up to speak he noticed the partition wall and could see people through the gap in it. 

“I became aware of other people in the room because there was a very large partition in the room, floor to ceiling, you had no visibility of any other space in the hotel except when I stood up to speak,” he said. 

I spoke from a rostrum I could see people within that space but I couldn’t see who was in it, so I couldn’t identify anybody in it.  

Calleary said there was a gap in the partition “about my width” that he could see through when he was speaking but not when he was sitting down.  

Asked about the Covid-19 laws and guidelines in place at the time, Colm Smyth SC for Cassidy said that “as a member of government” he had to be conformable rules were being followed. 

Calleary replied that “first of all as a citizen” he had to be comfortable and that he was. 

He added: “I was very comfortable during my time at the venue that they were being adhered to.”

“I was struck by the amount of what became known as bubbles that were there, people who had spent the previous two days playing golf in each others’ company.”

Obviously one was conscious of Covid at the time but we were very conscious that within the room we were in that everything was very, very much compliant. 

john-sweeney-left-and-james-sweeney-leaving-galway-court-during-a-hearing-where-they-are-two-of-four-people-accused-to-have-breached-covid-restrictions-by-organising-an-oireachtas-golf-society-event Hoteliers John Sweeney (left) and James Sweeney had faced charges that have now been dismissed. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Edward Walsh SC  for John Sweeney asked Calleary about the guidelines for the hospitality industry at the time, putting it to him that the guidelines were issued “under the authority and seal of government”. 

Calleary responded that the guideline wissued “with the regulations” and were published “under the imprimatur of Fáilte Ireland, a state organisation, and in conjunction with Department of Tourism”

is set to hear witness evidence from former government minister Dara Calleary.

Other evidence 

The trial began at the beginning of January and ran for two days before a four-week break. It returned today before Judge Mary Fahy.

Defence counsels have argued that the defendants were following Fáilte Ireland guidelines that were agreed between the government and the representative body.

Supreme Court Judge Seámus Woulfe, who was present at the event, gave evidence at the trial that it was “significant” that the guidelines were published with the logo of the Irish government. 

At the beginning of this morning’s proceedings, Cole said that the prosecution was not relying upon the guidelines as part of its evidence but that it “accepts the guidelines as a defence exhibit”. 

Both Smyth and Walsh argued that the guidelines should be prosecution evidence. 

Smyth said that they should have been gathered by the prosecution “in the normal way”. 

“There is no basis, the prosecution have distanced themselves from these guidelines from the very beginning,” he said.  

Walsh said it was “outrageous” that the prosecution was “ignoring” the guidelines for what he said were “tactical reasons”, describing the approach as “devoid of reality”.  

“We’ll wait to see what Mr Cole suggests is in the mind of the DPP but they seem to have a situation that the guidelines can only be a defence exhibit,” he said. 

They are a document issued by the government of Ireland, that is the status of the document. For the DPP to seek to ignore the government is outrageous. Mr Cole should make it clear, is the DPP setting up a separate state? Is the DPP ignoring the government of Ireland? Because that seems to be the thrust of what the prosecution is doing.  

Addressing the arguments over the guidelines, Judge Fahy said it was a matter for her and that the court “accepts the guidelines”. 

Judge Fahy previously noted that the guidelines do “have the Rialtas na hÉireann stamp” and that it would be “unrealistic to disregard” them.

former-senator-donie-cassidy-arriving-at-galway-court-to-attend-a-hearing-where-he-is-one-of-four-people-accused-to-have-breached-covid-restrictions-by-organising-an-oireachtas-golf-society-event-pic Former Senator Donie Cassidy was President of the Oireachtas Golf Society. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The guidelines also formed part of the cross-examination of Garda Inspector Peter Conlon. 

Smyth asked Conlon why the guidelines weren’t included as part of the evidence gathering process.

“You have a duty to collect evidence whether it supports the prosecution or the defence,” he said. 

Conlon said he was “aware of the contents” of the guidelines and they were not gathered as evidence as they were “publicly available”. 

Smyth also asked Conlon about media reports in February 2021 that charges were to be brought in the case and whether t was appropriate for such reports to have appeared.

In response, Conlon said: “I utterly reject that I leaked information to the press.”

Smyth put it to Conlon that he was the “lead investigator” in the case and he asked how it was possible that information about charges was leaked to the press. 

Conlon was also asked about CCTV footage not forming part of the case. He told the court that an investigating garda put in an initial verbal request to the hotel to view CCTV footage but was told that no one was available to show the footage to the garda. 

When another request was put to the hotel, he said, gardai were told that the request would have to go through legal teams.

Under questioning from Smyth, Conlon said there was no CCTV recording of the function room in any case. 

Walsh, for John Sweeney, said there would be “serious issues” with gardaí obtaining CCTV footage without a legal authority and that there was a “narrative being portrayed” which was “not entirely correct”. 

Addressing the CCTV question, Judge Fahy agreed there was indeed “no legal authority” and that while it may be perceived as a “slant against the proprietor” she was “not viewing it like that”. 

Significantly, Conlon also agreed with comments from defense counsel that “we would not be here” if there was two separate rooms accommodating the event. 


He said it was “my assertion” that it was one room “by way of the fact that there were two openings in the partition”.  

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