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In TV interview, Phil Hogan says he does not accept HSE guidance on restricting movements

Hogan tweeted out tonight that he wanted to clarify he does accept the HSE advice, but didn’t accept an assertion made during the interview.

EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan speaking to RTÉ's Tony Connelly.
EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan speaking to RTÉ's Tony Connelly.
Image: Screengrab/RTÉ

Updated Aug 25th 2020, 6:45 PM

EMBATTLED EU COMMISSIONER Phil Hogan has said he does not accept HSE advice that someone restricting their movements after arriving in the State from a non-Green List area must continue to quarantine even if they received a negative Covid-19 test.

In the interview with RTÉ News, Hogan said he “did everything possible to ensure that I was no risk to anybody”. 

Hogan earlier provided a report to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the golf meeting controversy, after she had called for a “detailed report” on the matter.

The report was submitted to von der Leyen ahead of a public statement and timeline issued by Commissioner Hogan this afternoon, where he staunchly defends his movements and insists he did comply with public health guidelines when in Ireland. 

The report from Hogan to President von der Leyen was requested after it emerged that he made a second trip to Kildare – this time after the Oireachtas Golf Society event.

In a timeline of his visit, Hogan outlines stays in Kildare, Kilkenny and Galway and three rounds of golf.  

In the report to von der Leyen, Hogan says he “adhered to [Covid-19 requirements] at all times” and said he was not required to “self-isolate or quarantine” because he tested negative for Covid-19 after a hospital appointment. 

In a statement this evening, the Department of Health outlined HSE guidance which “states that when someone is restricting their movements because they are a close contact of a confirmed case or because they have travelled into Ireland from a non-Green-List country, they must do so for 14 days”. 

“The HSE guidance does not state that a negative (not detected) Covid-19 test shortens the 14-day restricted movement requirement. 

“Passengers arriving to Ireland from overseas are legally required to complete a Covid-19 Passenger Locator Form. The form may be used for the purpose of contact tracing in the event that there is a suspected or confirmed case on board a flight or ferry.”

Speaking to RTÉ’s Tony Connelly, Hogan said: ”I am satisfied that arising from the test that I did, which proved that I was negative, that I was no risk to anybody.”

During the interview, Hogan said he “self-isolated for the days up to the 5th of August. I was required to go to hospital. I tested negatively for Covid-19, so I was Covid free. My doctor said I was free to go.”

When asked about the HSE advice that people returning from abroad should continue to restrict movements even if they get a negative test in the first 14 days Hogan said: ”Well, I don’t accept that … I did everything possible to ensure that I was no risk to anybody.”

“I looked at the websites, I checked the regulations as any person would do,” Hogan said.

“I checked on the Citizens Information website … and it stated very explicitly, very explicitly, that if you have a Covid-19 negative test you are free to go where you wish and you don’t have to self-isolate,” Hogan said. 

Connelly pointed out to Hogan during the interview that there is a difference between the advice regarding those self-isolating if they have Covid-19 symptoms and those returning to Ireland from a high-risk country. 

At 9.44pm today, Hogan tweeted out a clarification: “I never said that I don’t accept the HSE advice, I was taking issue at the proposition put to me in the interview. At all times, I acted in good faith on the basis of the information available to me.”

In response to the Commissioner’s citation of its website’s advice as the reason he ended his quarantine early, Citizens Information released a statement, which includes the extract:

“Our webpage on Testing for COVID-19 covers information for people in Ireland who may need to be tested for COVID-19. In this page, we refer to self-isolating and no longer requiring to self-isolate in the context of people who have been tested on the advice of the HSE, and does not apply to people who must restrict their movements for 14 days upon entry to the State.”

Responding to Phil Hogan’s assertion that the Citizens Information site is funded by the HSE, the Citizens Information Board clarified: “We are not funded by the HSE. We are funded by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.”

Criticism

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty has said Hogan is “simply wrong”, stating that the commissioner should know that the public health advice is that those arriving in Ireland from countries not on the Green List should restrict their movements for 14 days.

Doherty said the Taoiseach and Tánaiste need to clarify if they still maintain that Hogan should consider his position after the interview.

One minister said that Hogan is correct in saying that he broke no laws, but said he did not adhere to the public health advice which requires those arriving into Ireland restricting their movements for 14 days – test or no test.

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They said he attended a mass gathering and broke the Kildare lockdown rules by travelling to the golf event, which they said was not essential business.

Another government source said today that Hogan has given the government two fingers, but guessed that Hogan will survive. They said government should not be held accountable for the actions of Hogan as he is not accountable to the Irish government. At the end of the day, the EC Commissioner has the power in this situation, they said.

‘I made a big mistake’

Elsewhere in the interview, Hogan said it “wasn’t appropriate” for him to attend the Oireachtas Golf Society event. 

“I made a big mistake by going down. It’s a very big embarrassment and I apologise for doing so,” he said. 

“I know I should not have been there, I’ve apologised for that profusely. I think of all of the people that have suffered bereavement, I think of the frontline workers, and a gathering of that nature was not appropriate at this time. There is no excuse for that,” he added. 

With reporting by Christina Finn and Sean Murray

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