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'People are livid' - calls for Dáil recall as Taoiseach removes Fianna Fáil whip from three senators over golf dinner

  • Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also removes Fine Gael whip from senators over golf dinner – but remains silent on EU Commissioner Phil Hogan
  • Number of TDs call for Dáil to be recalled
  • Harris describes golf dinner as 'punch in the gut'
  • Green's Hourigan says people are 'livid'

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: Julien Behal Photography/PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: Julien Behal Photography/PA

Micheal Martin (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Micheal Martin (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Phil Hogan. Photo: David Conachy

Phil Hogan. Photo: David Conachy

Dara Calleary

Dara Calleary

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: Julien Behal Photography/PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has removed the Fianna Fáil whip from senators Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt and Niall Blaney.

The whip has not been removed for any set period but it is understood it will be for an extended time.

Earlier today, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he has removed the party whip from Senators Jerry Buttimer, Paddy Burke and John Cummins.

However, the Tánaiste remained silent on EU commissioner Phil Hogan who also attended an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Galway.

This morning, Senator Jerry Buttimer and Dara Calleary both resigned from their positions after attending the golf dinner along with over 80 people.

Mr Calleary's resignation from Cabinet comes just 37 days after he was appointed to the Department of Agriculture after Taoiseach Micheál Martin sacked his predecessor Barry Cowen from the role amid controversy over a drink-driving offence.

Mr Martin has now lost two Agriculture Ministers in just 54 days.

In a statement, 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.

"Funerals, christenings, weddings, family holidays and other really important family occasions have been foregone to protect each other and the most vulnerable. As representatives we should lead by example," he added.

Speaking at a post-Cabinet press briefing this afternoon, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that the event is "inexcusable".

"What happened in Galway was wrong. It is inexcusable.

"There are people all over this country making huge sacrifices and they continue to make huge sacrifices. At a minimum, the Irish people need to see those rules followed by members of the Oireachtas.

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"Dara Calleary and Jerry Buttimer are both decent and honourable public representatives.

"Today they have done the decent and honoruable thing. It simply shouldn't have happened," he added.

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said the function was a "punch in the gut."

"The Oireachtas golf dinner should clearly not have proceeded. It was absolutely the wrong thing to do and a stomach punch to every one in this country who has sacrificed so much," he said.

In a letter to Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Mr Buttimer said his attendance at the event has "compromised the Government at a time when people, across every sector of Irish society, are doing their best to keep all safe during this global pandemic."

"It was an unintended but serious lapse of judgement in attending the event. I should not have attended the dinner and I hereby tender my resignation as Leas Cathaoirleach of Seanad Eireann to the Cathaoirleach of the 26th Seanad. I apologise unreservedly for my actions this week," he said.

"For the last six months, this country has come and worked together, to defeat Covid-19. It is an ongoing battle and our collective societal response is important and our individual actions matter. I wish everyone every success in this fight."

Supreme Court Judge Seamus Woulfe has also apologised for his attendance at the Oireachtas Golf Society event.

He said he was not aware that was going to be an organised dinner as part of the event.

Mr Woulfe said: "In learning of the proposed dinner during the course of that day, my understanding was that the organisers and the hotel had satisfied themselves that they would be operating within Government pubic health guidelines.

"I attended based on that understanding, that it would be within the guidelines, but do apologise for any unintentional breach of any of the new guidelines on my part.

He added: "That I ended up in a situation where breaches may have occurred, is of great regret to me, and for which I am sorry. I unreservedly apologise".

Mr Calleary formally resigned as Minister for Agriculture this morning.

In a brief statement, his spokesperson told Independent.ie: “The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Dara Calleary TD is resigning as a member of the government, effective immediately.”

Councillor Enda McGloin, who also attended the event on Wednesday, also stepped down from his role as the Fine Gael whip on Leitrim County Council.

"I apologise unreservedly for my attendance at the dinner. I should not have attended in light of the public health guidelines. In line with the sanction on my Oireachtas colleagues I am informing my party leader that I am resigning the Fine Gael whip on Leitrim County Council," he said in a statement on Twitter.

Resignation

Mr Calleary had three conversations with Taoiseach Micheal Martin since details of his attendance at a golf society

In the first conversation, Mr Calleary set out the details of the event and apologsied for attending the dinner with around 80 people.

They spoke again late last night and discussed what action should be taken as a result of the growing controversy.

The final time they spoke was this morning when it was agreed Mr Calleary had no option but to resign.

In his resignation letter to the Taoiseach, Mr Calleary said: "The overriding objective of this government is to protect our people against Covid-19. It's destructive path has left grief and illness across our island."

"There has been a major national effort to do this since March and people are making huge sacrifices and suffering economic loss to do this," he added.

He said his attendance at the event has "undermined that effort " and that this was "certainly never intended to be the case".

"I reiterate my apology to the people of our island. Their work and their commitment in this great effort has been immense.

"I apologise in particular to health care workers and their families and to the public health officials whose jobs I have inadvertently made more difficult. And again I apologise to you and all my colleagues.

"Whilst I mean that apology most sincerely, it is not sufficient and accordingly I am tendering my resignation to you as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine," it continued.

"It has been a privilege to serve in this Department if even for a few short weeks, It is an outstanding organisation with incredibly dedicated public servants serving our agriculture, food and marnie communities here and abroad," he added.

The Taoiseach will be Minister of Agriculture until the Dáil returns in the next three weeks.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Taoiseach has told her he is not recalling the Dail, despite calls from a number of TDs.

"I have spoken with the Taoiseach. He has refused my request to recall the Dail. He is wrong. The government is increasingly chaotic, confused, with no direction. They must be held to account."

In a statement, Taoiseach Micheáll Martin said Mr Calleary's attendance was "wrong and an error of judgement on his part."

"I have accepted his resignation. People all over the country have made very difficult, personal sacrifices in their family lives and in their businesses to comply with Covid regulations. This event should not have gone ahead in the manner it did given the Government decision of last Tuesday," he said.

"Dara Calleary, since he was first elected to Dáil Éireann has been, and remains, a committed and dedicated public representative. This error of judgement was out of character. He has made the right decision for the country, particularly in the light of our continued efforts to supress Covid-19."

Mr Calleary had been due to speak to RTÉ's Morning Ireland and Newstalk Breakfast but pulled out of both interviews amid uncertainty about his future.

In a statement, Fine Gael senator Paddy Burke, who is also from Mayo, apologised for attending the event.

"I attended a function on Wednesday night. The function had been moved from the golf clubhouse to comply with public health guidelines. I now realise this was an error of judgement on my behalf and I apologise for that."

The golf dinner followed a two-day golf tournament in Galway but sources who took part said there was no formal indoor gathering on the first night of the event.

The Oireachtas Golf Society dinner was held just over 24 hours after Mr Calleary and his Cabinet colleagues agreed to implement stringent Covid-19 restrictions which banned any indoor gathering of more than six people.

Former RTÉ broadcaster Sean O’Rourke were among over 80 people who attended an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner, it can also be revealed.

Mr O’Rourke confirmed he was at the dinner saying it was his understanding “the organisers had satisfied themselves through the hotel that they were operating within guidelines”.

This morning Phil Hogan said he had quarantined for two weeks prior to attending the event.

The dinner had between 60 to 80 attendees split across a partitioned function room at the hotel.

The function was organised by the society’s president, former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy, with the event honouring the late former Fianna Fáil MEP Mark Killilea.

Education Minister Norma Foley said that Mr Calleary made a "serious lapse of judgement" when he attended the function on Wednesday.

"A serious breach of judgment occurred. The Minister concerned put his hand up. He took the honorable action, from his point of view. He has resigned. I think that is a measure of Dara Calleary himself that he has done that," she told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

When asked if the new government is in trouble, she said there are "always going to be issues and challenges in governments, that's the nature of government, and how we react to them is a measure of government."

Ms Foley said Mr Calleary's resignation was an "appropriate action" and the other TDs and senators that were in attendance "will need to look at their own personal circumstances" and "perhaps to judge it against the standard that Dara has set."

Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan has called on the Dáil to reconvene “as soon as possible” and said EU Commissioner Phil Hogan still has questions to answer over his attendance at an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner.

In a statement published by Green Party off-shoot Just Transition, Ms Hourigan said the Dáil must return to address the growing challenge facing the country due to Covid-19.

Ms Hourigan said people are “livid” over the Oireachtas Golf Society event in Galway.

“So many people have given up so much voluntarily in the past months, and second-guessed everything they did.

“The message was that we were all in this together. While the resignations already given are welcome, other participants such as EU Commissioner Phil Hogan still have questions to answer.

“The Dáil must return in early September to try to restore the public’s confidence that the pandemic is being managed well, that our young people are being protected, and people’s concerns are being listened to,” she added.

“There’s concern about conditions in meat packing plants and direct provision that are leading to more outbreaks.

“There is considerable stress and concern from both school staff and families about whether it is safe for schools to return and how this will interact with the new restrictions.”

Labour party TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin called for the others to "now consider their positions".

He added: "I think the Leas-Cathaoirleach is one of those individuals, and I think the EU Commissioner is another."

Meanwhile the vice-chairman of Kilkenny County Council “unreservedly apologised” for attending the Golf Society dinner.

Fine Gael councillor Martin Brett, who has served as Kilkenny city councillor five times, confirmed he attended the event understanding at the time that it was Covid restriction compliant and added that he was sorry for any upset caused.

Cllr Brett said: ““I was there as a guest, I was on holidays for a couple of days, we played golf

”I was informed that the whole operation was totally compliant with all guidelines etc and I had no problem then (attending) as that was what was said.

“It appears that may not be the case now. If that is the case I unreservedly apologise for any upset in any shape or form. It wasn’t intentional, I wasn’t to know and I acted in good faith.“


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