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From a trickle to a torrent: How days of revelations made Phil Hogan's position untenable

The unending revelations from GolfGate took a toll on the trade commissioner.

The GolfGate saga proved too much for Phil Hogan.
The GolfGate saga proved too much for Phil Hogan.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

IN THE IMMEDIATE aftermath of the news of the Cliften Golfgate dinner last Thursday evening and Friday morning, Phil Hogan’s resignation was far from inevitable. 

But as more and more revelations emerged about where the EU Trade Commissioner had been during his brief time in Ireland, by the early days of this week it seemed only a matter of time before the pressure would become too much.

And while it’s rare to see a European commissioner resign, the steady trickle of revelations – some small, some significant – seemed destined to erode the confidence of both the Irish government and the EU in Hogan. 

In hindsight, his fate may have been sealed as soon as his ever-evolving statements began to clash with the picture he’d originally presented about his stay in Ireland.

And while Hogan insisted last night that be broke no laws, he did seem to indicate that the burden of negative headlines and vocal outrage from his home country might have all proved too much to bear in the Berlaymont, where the European Commission is based. 

“It was becoming increasingly clear that the controversy concerning my recent visit to Ireland was becoming a distraction from my work as an EU Commissioner and would undermine my work in the key months ahead,” he said. 

Rise and fall

When the story broke in the Irish Examiner last Thursday that over 80 senior political figures attended a dinner in Clifden organised by the Oireachtas Golf Society, it triggered immediate public anger. 

By the next morning, agriculture minister Dara Calleary had resigned from the Cabinet, while Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer had stepped down as Leas Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. 

And as attention turned to Hogan, he insisted he’d done nothing wrong. With no apology forthcoming, a spokesperson informed multiple news outlets that Hogan had followed all public health guidelines after entering Ireland and had restricted his movements as required after he arrived.

On Friday morning, Hogan tweeted to say that he’d “complied fully with the government’s quarantine requirements, having been in Ireland since late July”. 

That claim was to be significantly challenged in the days to follow. 

Nearly immediately, some of details in his and his spokesperson’s statements appeared to become a little less definitive. 

His presence in Kildare, in a localised lockdown, attracted attention. Initially, he was said to have left his Kildare apartment for Kilkenny before those lockdown measures were introduced, before later travelling “directly” to Galway for the golf event. 

Yet it soon become clearer this wasn’t the full truth. By Sunday, it had emerged that Hogan had stopped in locked-down Kildare before going to Galway in order to collect “personal belongings and essential documents”. 

To make matters worse, it emerged Hogan had been stopped in Kildare by gardaí using his mobile phone while driving. 

At this point, the European Commission had been forced to intervene. On Saturday, Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had continued to pile pressure on Hogan in the background by asking him to “consider his position” – to many, a clear call for his resignation.

By Sunday, von der Leyen had asked Hogan to provide a “full report with details of the event”. 

By Tuesday evening, it had been reported that Hogan also stayed in Kildare the night before his return to Brussels last week. That same day, he’d also admitted to travelling to Adare in Limerick, where he played a round of golf on 13 August before travelling back to Kilkenny. 

By the time he released a detailed timeline of his movements through Ireland earlier this week, Hogan must have hoped the issue had been cleared up. 

“To the best of my knowledge and ability I believe that I complied with public health regulations in Ireland during my visit,” he told his boss von der Leyen. 

But that wouldn’t be the end of it. There were reports of a trip to Roscommon, not listed on his own published itinerary, while he also drew ire after claiming that his negative Covid-19 test relieved him of the need to restrict his movements for two weeks. 

In an interview with RTÉ News on Tuesday evening, he flatly rejected the assertion that HSE advice meant that someone restricting their movements after arriving in the State from a non-Green List area must continue to quarantine even after received a negative test. 

“I am satisfied that arising from the test that I did, which proved that I was negative, that I was no risk to anybody.”

file-photo-european-commission-president-ursula-von-der-leyen-is-expceted-to-respond-today-to-phil-hogans-report-on-the-oireachtas-golf-society-event-end Phil Hogan had spent a decades-long career in Irish and European politics. Source: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

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”. 

Later that evening, he was forced to tweet 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.”

By Tuesday evening, the situation was nearly farcical. On Twitter, the Hogan scandal had become a running joke – with each hour that went by, it seemed a new location had been added to Hogan’s list of trips. 

And senior politicians continued to add to Hogan’s woes. On Tuesday night, in the wake of his RTÉ interview, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Green Party leader released a joint statement to say it was clear Hogan had breached public health guidelines and that “concerns remain”. 

In the hours that followed, eyewitness reports kept emerging. The Irish Times reported that a woman had seen Hogan dining with two other guests at the K Club on the 31 July after he returned from Brussels. 

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Final hours

On Wednesday evening, Hogan confirmed he would be resigning.  

Earlier in the day, it had appeared that Hogan’s fate might be decided by the European Commission President. 

At the Commission’s daily press conference yesterday, a spokesperson had said that von der Leyen is “studying carefully” the report submitted by Hogan. 

But hours later, it emerged that Hogan had decided to go himself. 

“I have meditated on this very seriously in the last few days and I have come to the reluctant conclusion that this sort of distraction was going to continue, and therefore I should resign and take myself away from this essential work,” he said. 

“I deeply regret that my trip to Ireland – the country that I have been so proud to represent as a public servant for most of my adult life – caused such concern, unease and upset,” he said. 

Hogan’s decades-long political career might now be over, bringing to an end a saga that left the Irish government and the European Commission nearly at loggerheads while uniting a country in both anger and confusion. 

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