Golfgate senators to meet with Leo Varadkar over removal of whip

Fine Gael trio will speak with Tánaiste over procedures used

Leo Varadkar, right, with Jerry Buttimer. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Hugh O'Connell

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is to speak with the three Fine Gael senators who attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner after concerns were raised by one of them about the manner in which they were stripped of the party whip.

Mayo-based senator Paddy Burke, one of the three senators who attended the infamous Clifden dinner in August 2020, has questioned the procedures that were used to remove the party whip from himself, Jerry Buttimer and John Cummins for a period of six months.

Speaking at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last week, Mr Burke is understood to have told colleagues he thought Mr Varadkar would have addressed the recent acquittal of four men who stood trial over the dinner at the previous week’s meeting.

Charges against the four men, including Independent TD Noel Grealish, former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy and two hoteliers, who were accused of organising the dinner in breach of Covid restrictions, were dismissed by a district court judge on February 3. The judge concluded no public health restrictions had been breached by the dinner taking place.

Mr Burke has sought clarity on what Mr Varadkar told a meeting of the parliamentary party in September 2020 about the decision to strip him and his two colleagues of the whip, as well as clarity on the procedures for doing this.

Mr Burke is understood to have made the point that aside from when a member votes against the party whip, any move to remove it requires a motion, proposer, seconder and vote of the parliamentary party.

Fine Gael declined to clarify what its internal rules are this weekend. A party spokesperson said: “The Tánaiste will speak to the three senators individually and confidentially in the coming days and he will address the matter at the PP meeting next Wednesday.”

The Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Richard Bruton told the Sunday Independent yesterday: “I am not going to comment about a private meeting. It would be a complete breach of trust to colleagues, I am not going to breach that trust. It’s a private meeting.”

Neither Mr Buttimer, who was forced to resign as vice-chair of the Seanad over the dinner, nor Mr Cummins, wished to comment yesterday.

In a statement the day after the August 2020 dinner, Mr Varadkar said: “The event organised by the Oireachtas Golf Society should not have happened. I understand how extremely difficult the restrictions have been for people and the enormous sacrifices we have all made.

“In recognition of the seriousness of this matter, I have removed the party whip from senators Jerry Buttimer, Paddy Burke and John Cummins. Senator Jerry Buttimer has also resigned his position as Leas-Cathaoirleach of the Seanad.”

The three men had the Fine Gael whip reinstated in January of last year after Mr Varadkar brought a motion before the parliamentary party that was passed unanimously.