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Golfgate: Read Phil Hogan's full statement to Ursula von der Leyen on his Irish visit

Hogan has come under increasing pressure to explain his movements to and from the Oireachtas Golf Society event.

EU COMMISSIONER PHIL Hogan has said he “adhered to [Covid-19 requirements] at all times” during his recent visit to Ireland in a report to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in the wake of the golf dinner controversy.

He said that he was admitted to a hospital in Dublin for a medical procedure on 5 August, travelled from his residence in Kildare to Kilkenny before the localised restrictions came into effect in Kildare and was “assured by the organisers [of the golf event] and the hotel that it was being held in compliance with all relevant Covid-19 rules”.

His full letter can be read here.

Hogan has come under increasing pressure to explain his movements to and from the Oireachtas Golf Society event which he attended last week, with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste asking him to account for his actions surrounding the event.

It emerged on Sunday that Hogan had been stopped for using his mobile phone while driving by Gardaí in Kildare while he was travelling from Kilkenny to Galway for the dinner. 

A spokesperson for Hogan said the Commissioner had stopped briefly at his apartment in Kildare to collect personal belongings and essential documents relating to the EU-US trade negotiations before attending the dinner. 

As first reported by the Irish Independent this morning, Hogan also stayed in Kildare the night before his return to Brussels last week but insisted it wasn’t in breach of Covid-19 restrictions for that county, which have been in place since 8 August. 

In his statement today, he also admits travelling to Adare in Limerick, where he played a round of golf on 13 August before travelling onto Kilkenny. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had sought clarity from Hogan on his movements and the circumstances surrounding them last week.

She had earlier given Hogan a deadline of 2pm (1pm Irish time) today to provide a full report on the matter. 

The golf event

Here’s what Hogan told von der Leyen about the golf dinner:

“This is relevant to the event organised by the Oireachtas Golfing Society in Clifden, Co. Galway on 19 August 2020.

“At the outset I fully accept that it is abundantly clear that the event should not have been held and that I should not have attended this dinner. I accept this and have made a full apology to the Irish people for having done so.

From a regulatory perspective Statutory Instrument (SI) 234 of 2020 imposed a restriction on a person organising an event indoors to keep the numbers attending below 50 people. The legal obligations imposed by this Regulation rest with the organisers of the event rather than the attendees.

“On 18 August 2020 the Irish Government announced a tightening of this regulation to restrict events to no more than 15 people, although I understand that the Statutory Instrument giving effect to this change and the relevant official guidance to the hospitality sector were only made available subsequent to the event. In reality this means that the dinner did not come within the remit of the new rules agreed on 18 August. The event is now the subject of a police inquiry to determine its compliance with Covid-19 rules.

“I was an invited guest to the event on 19 August 2020 and was assured by the organisers and the Hotel that it was being held in full compliance with all relevant Covid-19 rules. I had no reason to question or doubt that assurance, particularly in circumstances where an Irish Government Minister was attending and speaking at the event. Again I now recognise that the event should not have proceeded and I should not have attended.”

Locator form

Hogan also describes filling in the required passenger locator form and receiving a Covid-19 test upon his return to Ireland. 

He returned to Ireland on 31 July. 

Hogan said: “SI 181 of 2020 imposes an obligation on international passengers arriving in Ireland to complete a Passenger Locator Form.

“The information provided on the form is used to contact arrivals over the next 14 days to determine their location and may be used for contact tracing for confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19. The requirements to provide information apply to international passengers, with some exceptions including persons having diplomatic status.

“I completed a Passenger Locator form on arrival in the State. I subsequently was admitted to hospital for a medical intervention on 5 August where I tested negatively for Covid-19. As I had received a negative Covid-19 test while in hospital, I was not under any subsequent legal requirement to self-isolate or quarantine.

“I went to Dublin on essential official business on 12 August 2020 to brief the Tánaiste, and the Minister for Trade on EU-U.S. trade talks and to attend an event in the European Commission Office. As I had submitted my contact details on the Passenger Locator Form I remained fully accessible to the authorities at all times as required by the Regulations, notwithstanding that my negative Covid-19 status had been determined since arrival to the State.”

Restrictions on movement

The last – and lengthiest – piece of the statement refers to his movements, including in and out of Kildare which was placed under new restrictions after his initial return.

Hogan said: “On 7 August 2020, the Irish Government introduced a localised lockdown covering 3 counties, including Kildare, where I was initially staying before admittance to hospital. This lockdown was enforced by SI 295 of 2020 which specifies movement restrictions within the counties involved. People living within the county are not allowed to leave the county and those living outside the county are not permitted to enter the relevant counties.

There are some exceptions – firstly, a person can drive through the county to get to another county and secondly a person can enter the county if they have “a reasonable excuse” to do so. Examples of a reasonable excuse include for reasons of work, moving residence, etc. The law clarifies that the examples listed are specified “without prejudice to what constitutes a reasonable excuse” for the purposes of the restrictions.

“In my case, I was in hospital in the run up to the lockdown being introduced and then travelled back to Kildare before going to recuperate in my home county (Kilkenny), which was not under lockdown. I had left Kildare before the lockdown was introduced at midnight on 7 August. My subsequent trips concerning Kildare were as follows;

I subsequently passed through Kildare without stopping en route to Dublin on 12 August where I had separate meetings with An Tánaiste, Mr Varadkar and the Minister of State for Trade, Mr. Robert Troy about on-going EU-U.S. trade talks. I also had a short meeting at the offices of the European Commission. I returned to Kilkenny that evening, travelling through Kildare en route without stopping.

“On 17 August 2020, en route to Galway from Kilkenny, I briefly stopped off at my apartment in Kildare to collect essential work papers concerning the EU-U.S. trade talks. I believe that this constitutes a reasonable excuse for entering the county under the Covid regulations.

“It was during this journey I was stopped by a member of the Irish police who had seen me holding a phone while I was driving. The policeman cautioned me against holding a phone and there were no charges or further actions under the road traffic legislation. I very much regret having answered the phone while driving.

Late on 21 August, I returned from Galway to my apartment in Kildare to collect my belongings including my passport for the purpose of traveling back to my primary residence in Brussels very early the next morning.

“To my best understanding, my justification for entering County Kildare to obtain essential working documents or to get my belongings for the purpose of returning home to Brussels constitutes “a reasonable excuse” under the regulations. At all times during my brief presence in Kildare over the period, I followed public health guidance.

“When in Kildare, I was either moving through the County or momentarily there with a reasonable excuse and consequently I was not in breach of the Covid-19 restrictions imposed.

“To the best of my knowledge and ability I believe that I complied with public health regulations in Ireland during my visit.”

Next steps

The Taoiseach and Tánaiste had called on Hogan to provide a full account of the matter, and on Saturday asked him to “consider his position”. 

President von der Leyen had also called for clarity from Hogan.

Earlier today, a spokesperson for the European Commission said von der Leyen required a “full picture” of events from Phil Hogan before she made any decision in relation to the controversy. 

With reporting from Cónal Thomas, Gráinne Ní Aodha

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