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European Commission president 'seeking clarification' as Phil Hogan hands in his Golfgate report

Last night, it emerged that Hogan was stopped by gardaí while driving to the dinner.

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan (file photo)
EU Commissioner Phil Hogan (file photo)
Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated Aug 24th 2020, 1:00 PM

EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT Ursula von der Leyen is investigating the circumstances surrounding Irish commissioner Phil Hogan’s attendance at a controversial golf event.

Brussels said Hogan, the EU’s trade commissioner, had given an account of his actions to the president, but she had requested further clarification from him.

A spokesperson for Hogan said that a “full report” was provided to the President of the Commission last night.

European Commission spokesman Dana Spinant told reporters at a briefing this morning:

“This is a matter which requires careful assessment on our side.

“It is a matter where details count, therefore the president has requested Commissioner Hogan to provide a full report covering the matters… the president has received such a report from Commissioner Hogan last night.”

She added: “The president has requested further clarifications because details are important and she wishes to have them.”

“We feel for the people of Ireland who, like many other people and communities in the European Union over the past months, had to go through difficult times to comply with strict regulations in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” she said.

“Many have lost loved ones, many others have been ill and others have suffered from the restrictions.

“So this is why it is important that rules are respected.

“This is a matter not just of respecting the rules, but this is also a matter of public health.

“There are legal aspects involved and there are moral aspects involved as well.”

The Taoiseach reiterated today that Hogan should make a “comprehensive statement” about his actions leading up to the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner last week.

Speaking this morning, Micheál Martin said he was seeking an explanation from the EU Commissioner because it would be “particularly serious” if it emerged that he had breached the Government’s Covid-19 guidelines when he was in Kildare.

Last night, it emerged that Hogan was stopped by gardaí in Co Kildare while driving to the function on 17 August.

It came hours after he apologised “fully and unreservedly” for attending the infamous event at a hotel in Clifden, Co Galway on 19 August.

A spokesman for Hogan confirmed last night that he was stopped by a garda for using his mobile phone while driving to collect personal belongings and “essential documents” needed as part of his job.

In an interview with Today with Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio One, Martin said that Hogan had expressed to him in a phone call at the weekend that he fully understood the public’s anger about the revelations.

However, the Taoiseach explained that it was crucial that the EU Commissioner provided full clarity about his movements leading up to the dinner.

“I think it’s important that he comprehensively and fully comes out and allows himself to be interviewed to give people exactly the sequence of events on what transpired,” he said.

“The public needs absolute assurances that the restrictions that were imposed in Kildare were not breached. 

“That to me would be very, very serious indeed, because I just know first-hand how people on the ground were very, very upset.”

In a statement earlier this morning, a spokeswoman for the government said that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar both believe that Hogan “still needs to give a full account and explanations of his actions”.

Also this morning, Fianna Fáil minister Darragh O’Brien called for Hogan to step down, describing the series of revelations about him as a “drip-feed of information” which was unhelpful.

“The Commissioner needs to realise how, rightly, people are so angry about this event and his participation in it, and to look at other colleagues like Dara Calleary who took responsibility for his actions and who acted swiftly and responsibly,” he told RTÉ radio.

However, the Taoiseach rejected that call later this morning.

“I’m very clear that you know myself and the Tánaiste have called on him to consider his position, and I think in the first instance what I would like to see from Commissioner Hogan is a fairly comprehensive statement.

“He should make himself available for interview, in my view, to really nail this issue around the severe restrictions in Kildare, Laois and Offaly.”

Returned to Belgium

It is reported that Hogan has returned to Belgium, where his job with the European Commission is based.

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The latest revelations follow a series of statements by the EU Commissioner over the weekend about his time in Ireland and his attendance at the dinner.

On Thursday night, it emerged that he was one of over 80 people who attended the golf dinner.

On Friday morning, he claimed that he had restricted his movements after returning to Ireland in late July, amid questions over whether he had self-isolated for two weeks after travelling from Belgium, which is not on the government’s ‘green list’ of countries. 

In the same statement, Hogan also said that he was assured by the organisers of the dinner that the arrangements in place would comply with public health guidelines.

On Friday night, a spokesman said that Hogan had returned to Ireland at the end of July and went to Kildare, leaving the county on 5 August – two days before the local lockdown – to attend a hospital appointment.

After the appointment, the spokesman said the EU Commissioner went to Kilkenny and completed his quarantine there, before travelling directly to last week’s golf dinner in Galway.

Hogan also apologised to the public for his actions, having not done so on Friday morning.

On Saturday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar asked him to “consider his position” and said his initial apology for attending the function “came late”.

Earlier yesterday, it emerged that the EU Commissioner had travelled to Kildare while it was under localised lockdown, before travelling to Galway.

The Tánaiste had initially said that although his apology helped, it would have been better if it had come sooner.

“I think as well he needs to account for himself and explain his own actions,” Varadkar told RTÉ radio yesterday.

Meanwhile, former TD and senator Donie Cassidy has resigned as vice-president of Fianna Fáil amid the fall-out from the dinner.

Cassidy, who is also the president of the golf society, apologised on Saturday “for the hurt caused”.

In a statement, reported by RTÉ News, Cassidy confirmed that he had resigned from the role.

He said that the decision was in “light of the ongoing controversy surrounding the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Clifden, and due to the fact that the matter is subject to a garda investigation”.

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