Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary’s political future looks in jeopardy after he admitted breaching health guidelines to attend a golf function with 80 people present.
Fury is mounting as it emerged he and a range of Oireachtas colleagues attended the event at a hotel in Clifden, defying public health advice against such gatherings.
The Fianna Fáil deputy leader faced vituperative criticism from swathes of angry social media users after the Irish Examiner broke the story online, many of whom called for his resignation.
Despite his abject apology to attempt to assuage anger, his position was called into question just a day after the Government announced new lockdown measures to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Acting chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, when asked about hotel gatherings of 80 people, said he would not comment on a specific event.
However, he did say: "Clearly in the context of this week's guidance, we would not want 80 people gathering inside any event.” The Oireachtas Golf Society event to celebrate its 50th anniversary was held at a function room at the Station House Hotel, Clifden, Co Galway on Tuesday night, even though public health advice clearly states "no formal or informal events or parties should be organised in these premises".
The table plan listed 82 people for the sit down function, with up to 10 people per table, even though guidelines state no more than six people should be seated at any one table.
The guestlist included: Minister for Agriculture Dara Calleary and his wife Siobhán, Galway TD Noel Grealish, Senator Jerry Buttimer, Senator John Cummins, Senator Paul Daly, Senator Niall Blany, former Fine Gael Senator Cáit Keane, former attorney general Séamus Woulfe, the Moroccan ambassador Lahcen Mahraoui, former Labour Party senator Lorraine Higgins, former Fine Gael Senator and TD for Sligo–Leitrim Gerry Reynolds, former Fine Gael senator Imelda Henry, Circuit Court judge, and a former Workers' Party TD Pat McCartan, who serves as the vice-captain, and a number of others.
The Agriculture Minister and others have confirmed their attendance while others have been contacted for comment.
A spokesperson for the Minister of Agriculture said: “The Minister was asked to attend the dinner and speak in tribute to a deceased long-serving former Oireachtas member.
"He did attend and spoke briefly. He left following the dinner and observed social distance throughout the event.”
Last night I attended a function I committed to a number of weeks ago, to pay tribute to a person I respected and admired greatly. In light of the updated public health guidance this week I should not have attended the event. I wish to apologise unreservedly to everyone 1/2— Dara Calleary (@daracalleary) August 20, 2020
Mr Calleary later stated: “Last night I attended a function I committed to a number of weeks ago, having been asked to pay tribute to a person I respected and admired greatly. In light of the updated public health guidance this week I should not have attended the event. I wish to apologise unreservedly to the public, from whom we are asking quite a lot at this difficult time. I also offer this apology and my sincere regret to my Government colleagues.”
We are asking quite a lot from everyone at this difficult time. I also offer this apology and my sincere regret to my government colleagues 2/2— Dara Calleary (@daracalleary) August 20, 2020
The event was organised by the president of the society and former Fianna Fáil TD Donie Cassidy and honored Galway man and former Fianna Fáil MEP Mark Killilea Jr, who died in 2018. Mr Killilea's family was in attendance at the event.
A spokesman from The Station House Hotel said they consulted the Irish Hotels Federation, who told them that the event could go ahead with fewer than 50 people in each side of the room.
"My understanding of dining arrangements is that in any dining room it has to be less than 50," he said.
"There were 81 people at the event who dined with us, divided into 45 and 36. It's not a Mickey Mouse partition, it's a proper physical structure that divides two rooms, but it can be removed.
"It was booked a few months ago, we spoke to the Oireachtas Golf Society, and the Irish Hotel Federation (IHF), and we were told that as long as there were no more than 50 diners, it was safe."
An email from the IHF to members on Wednesday, seen by the Irish Examiner, stated: "Further to the Government announcement yesterday in relation to further Covid-19 restrictions, the Department of Tourism has not yet received any guidance on the changes as of this morning. Therefore, the status quo remains in terms of current operational procedures for hotels until further notice."
Acting chief medical officer, Dr Glynn said that he would not comment on a specific event, but he did say: "Clearly in the context of this week's guidance, we would not want 80 people gathering inside any event.” Rise TD Paul Murphy said the event should have been cancelled.
He said: "I think it's extremely poor that this event went ahead. It shows that they think it's one rule for them and another for everybody else.
"It sends a very poor message when figures from the political establishment openly flaunt the guidelines when ordinary people have to cancel parties, arts events, and weddings.
"Even if they could prove that the partition allows them get around the guidelines, it's a very flimsy excuse. In any case, the message that it sends out — that you can get around the rules — is not one that the political establishment should be sending out."