Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe apologises but could face questions

Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe apologises but could face questions

Mr Justice Séamus Woulfe confirmed he attended the golfing event as an invited guest, but wasn’t aware in advance an organised dinner was part of it. Picture: Gareth Chaney

One of the country’s top judges — a former legal adviser to the Government — has apologised “unreservedly” for attending the golfing dinner event in Galway on Wednesday.

However, Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe could, like all of the 80 or so people who attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner, be called as a witness to a criminal investigation under way by gardaí.

Under the law, only 50 people can attend an indoor event, but more than 80 people attended the dinner at the Station House Hotel in Clifden.

Questions are also being asked given Mr Justice Woulfe was attorney general when laws and regulations were drafted setting out restrictions to combat Covid-19, including on the holding of indoor events and maximum numbers that could attend.

Revelations of the event in the Irish Examiner on Thursday followed the much-publicised announcement last Tuesday by Taoiseach Micheál Martin that the regulations were going to be changed to reduce the maximum number at an indoor event (with limited exceptions) from 50 to just six.

Only organisers of an event attended by more than 50 people are subject to the law and face criminal sanction. Those attending such an event, while breaching public health guidelines, are not committing an offence.

Sources explained that those attending may be spoken to as witnesses though it will be up to investigators to determine if this is necessary as officers may have enough evidence from speaking to the organisers and hotel staff as well as from hotel documentation and CCTV.

Mr Justice Woulfe only became a Supreme Court judge in late July after serving as attorney general to the Government, including during the drafting and passage of the legislation introduced to combat Covid-19.

The Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020, published in April, defined an “event organiser” and related ministerial regulations set the 50-person limit.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Justice Woulfe confirmed he attended the golfing event as an invited guest, but wasn’t aware in advance an organised dinner was part of it.

“On 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 public health guidelines," he said.

“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.” 

Mr Justice Woulfe said he “never disregarded” governmental or health authority advice regarding public health, and had been at pains to follow rules and guidelines since their introduction in March.

“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,” he said.

It is not known what Chief Justice Frank Clarke makes of the furore.

Born in 1962, Mr Justice Woulfe was educated at Belvedere College, a private Dublin school, before studying in Trinity and King’s Inn. 

He was appointed attorney general in June 2017 by then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and continued until June 2020.

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