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Judge didn't know of second function room behind partition: What Seamus Woulfe said about Golfgate dinner

The full report into the Supreme Court judge’s attendance at the event was released today.

Seamus Woulfe
Seamus Woulfe
Image: RollingNews.ie

A REPORT INTO the attendance of Supreme Court Judge Seamus Woulfe at the infamous Golfgate dinner in Co Galway in August has found that his resignation would be “unjust and disproportionate”. 

The report detailed the exact details leading up to Woulfe attending the controversial golf event in Clifden.

The scandal cost then Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary a seat at Cabinet. EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan was also forced to resign having attended the event. 

There were also calls for Justice Seamus Woulfe to stand down from his position as a Supreme Court judge. Former Chief Justice Susan Denham carried out a full investigation into the incident, and her report was published this afternoon. 

Here are the main findings:

Invitation

The judge had attended previous Oireachtas Golf Society functions and had been informally invited to the 2020 event by Fine Gael Senator Paul Coghlan earlier this year. He next discussed the event with TD Noel Grealish, who he met while walking around the lawns of Leinster House, in May or June. 

Woulfe said he was informed about the golf event and told that it was still scheduled to go ahead as restrictions at the time allowed for sporting activities such as golf.

In between the first invitation and the event itself, Woulfe was made a justice of the Supreme Court. Several weeks prior to the event, spoke to the Chief Justice Frank Clarke, saying that because he was new he just wanted to check something with him. He said that he had been invited to the Oireachtas Golf Society outing. Woulfe recollects the Chief Justice said something like “I don’t see any problem with that”.

The report states: 

At no time did Mr Justice Woulfe receive a formal written invitation to the Oireachtas Golf Society outing, which he understands may have had a reference to a dinner. He never had sight of such an invitation. He was not aware whether there would be a formal group dinner, or whether participants would dine separately in the clubhouse with their playing partners directly after their round of golf. 

Events of Tuesday 18 August – the first day of the outing

Woulfe was was with his family on holidays in Donegal. He left at around midday and arrived at the Station House Hotel in Clifden at approximately 6pm. He arrived in Clifden tired after his drive from Donegal.

He was in contact with Paul Coghlan, who invited him to dinner in another hotel in Clifden.

The report states that Woulfe “was not aware of any public pronouncement, that night, by the Government, of new rules in relation to public dining”.

He was on holidays and had switched off from news coverage.

file-photo-the-report-by-ms-justice-susan-denham-has-found-that-the-resignation-of-supreme-court-judge-seamus-woulfe-would-be-disproportionate-following-his-attendance-at-the-infamous-golfgate-d Phil Hogan and Seamus Woulfe pictured at a funeral together in 2018. Source: Leah Farrell

Micheál Martin had addressed the nation earlier and introduced a raft of new restrictions. 

The new government guidance outlined that indoor gatherings and events were now limited to six people from no more than three households. However, in terms of indoor events, there was an exception for weddings with 50 guests still allowed.

Wednesday 19 August

On arrival at the clubhouse in Ballyconneely he went upstairs to the bar, where he
expected to register. At the registration desk he met Donie Cassidy, former Westmeath TD and organiser of the event, as well as TD Noel Grealish. Paul Coghlan was also in the vicinity of the registration desk.

He paid a fee for the outing, and he was told that the fee included dinner.
He was given a docket or voucher for dinner and was told that the dinner would be in the
Station House Hotel at 9pm. This was when Woulfe first became aware of the proposed dinner, according to the report.

He said he asked Paul Coghlan, who was his host, and he thought part of the
organising committee, about the dinner being a group dinner that night. 

Woulfe stated that Paul Coghlan assured him strongly that the organising committee had consulted extensively with the authorities and had ensured that everything would be in compliance with the rules and the public health guidelines.

Woulfe considered that the individuals involved in running the Oireachtas Gol Society were people of great experience and highly regarded.  

The dinner

Woulfe went downstairs to the hotel at around 8.15pm. He met one of his playing partners for a drink. After some time, they were called into dinner.

He said he had no sense of a large group assembling either in the bar or in the lobby area. He said he got no sense of people not going to the dinner because of a concern as to compliance with the Covid-19 regulations.

He left the bar with former Senator Lorraine Higgins and the Moroccan ambassador and headed towards the suite where they were to have dinner. Woulfe said he did not see any sort of table plan outside the suite but was informed he was at Table 5.

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The room Justice Woulfe had been brought to for the dinner appeared to him not to be a big room. 

According to floor plans, there were six tables in the function room where Woulfe was having dinner. There was a partition that moved and allowed staff to go between the two function rooms. 

Before and during the dinner the partition wall remained closed. There was a gap at the end of the retractable wall for hotel staff to go to and from the kitchen.

Woulfe stated that he did not know that there was a second function room behind the partition wall.

Screenshot 2020-10-01 at 6.09.27 PM Pictures showing the partition between the rooms. Source: Denham Report

Screenshot 2020-10-01 at 6.08.33 PM

The report reads: “Mr Justice Woulfe stated that during the dinner he was not aware of, and had no reason to believe that, the event consisted of any diners other than those he could see in his dining room. He said he was not conscious of another room of diners in the hotel or any other room connected to the Oireachtas Golf Society. All of the people whom he associated with the Oireachtas Golf Society event appeared to him to be in the same room with him. He could not hear any noise coming from any adjoining room. Nor was he conscious of any adjoining room. He was sitting facing the front of the room where the top table was and from where the speeches were made.”

Woulfe told the review that he had no idea that people behind the partition were also part of the golf event. After dinner, he said he had two more drinks and went to bed. He drove back to Donegal the following day. 

In a statement in August following the event, Woulfe apologised “unreservedly” and said he was under the impression that the organisers had made sure the dinner would be in compliance with the regulations.

The Clifden dinner saw a number of high-profile politicians fall from their posts but no action, disciplinary or otherwise, has so far been taken against Woulfe.

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