'Covid loves to party': The inevitable end of the line for Dara Calleary

'Covid loves to party': The inevitable end of the line for Dara Calleary
Fianna FAil TD Dara Calleary during a session of Dail Eireann at the Convention Centre, Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

In the end, the resignation was inevitable.

Once news broke that Dara Calleary spent Wednesday night with 80 other people at a golf function in a Galway hotel, with the rest of the country ordered to reduce their social interaction, his days were numbered — he just didn't know it yet.

An empowered Mr Calleary even took to the airwaves on Tuesday evening after the latest lockdown measures were announced, scolding the irresponsible young people and those damn house parties that were to blame for the latest spread of the virus.

Resolute, and with the weight of his position as a senior member of Government, he warned the nation "Covid loves to party".

So too does Mr Calleary and his golfing buddies by all accounts. (He's not a golfer, himself). 

Less than 24 hours after his public warning, he was out enjoying himself with dozens of others — offering two fingers to his own advice, and that of the Taoiseach and health experts. 

Sacrifice was for lesser people. Health regulations were for the masses, not lofty ministers. This was golf after all — much more important than a mere global pandemic.

Even when details of the event were revealed by the Irish Examiner, Mr Calleary reverted to type, confident that a genuine hands-up would suffice. 

The template is well worn at this stage — offer the sincere apology, do a few rounds of media interviews, and back to the business of running the country once the little storm blows over.

But, this time, the storm was not going to pass. The scale of public anger wouldn't allow that. This time a mere mea culpa wasn't going to cut it.

Mr Calleary rang his boss on Thursday night as public anger raged. He rang the leaders of Fine Gael and the Green Party to try and save his job. But to no avail.

Micheál Martin accepted Mr Calleary's resignation early yesterday morning. His statement hid his seething anger.

"This morning, Deputy Dara Calleary tendered his resignation as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, following his attendance at the Oireachtas golf dinner on Wednesday evening.

"His attendance at this event was wrong and an error of judgment 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.

"Dara Calleary, since he was first elected to Dáil Éireann, has been, and remains, a committed and dedicated public representative.

"This error of judgment was out of character. He has made the right decision for the country, particularly in the light of our continued efforts to suppress Covid-19."

Mr Calleary quit the Cabinet after being appointed to the role following the sacking of Barry Cowen.

It was a swift and justifiable end.

06/07/2020 Chief Whip and Minister of State for the Gaeltacht and Sport Dara Calleary TD during a Government Cabinet meeting at Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins
06/07/2020 Chief Whip and Minister of State for the Gaeltacht and Sport Dara Calleary TD during a Government Cabinet meeting at Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

Schooled in Ballina, Mr Calleary went on to secure a BA in business and politics from Trinity College, Dublin before returning to Mayo.

The 47-year-old Ballina man has been involved in Fianna Fáil politics since 1997. As the son and grandson of TDs, his DNA and that of his party are intertwined. He was elected to the FF National Executive in 1997, where he served until 2007, when he was elected on the eighth count in Mayo. For a year, he served as chairman of the party's youth wing, Ógra Fianna Fáil.

In 2009, he was appointed Minister of State for Labour Affairs and Public Service Transformation as the Fianna Fáil government crashed out of office. Mr Calleary's popularity in his home county saw him retain his seat on a dismal day for the party in 2011. He was elected as the only TD not from Fine Gael in the five-seat constituency anchored by former taoiseach, Enda Kenny.

In opposition, he was part of the party frontbench, first acting as spokesperson on justice, equality, and defence until July 2012, and then as spokesperson on jobs, enterprise, and innovation.

Mr Calleary will be replaced as Chief Whip by Dublin West TD Jack Chambers. In 2016, Mr Chambers became the youngest member of the Dáil and went on to be Fianna Fáil's defence spokesperson. Born in Galway, he has a law and political science degree from Trinity College, and spent time studying at the Royal College of Surgeons before his election.

Mr Chambers' role at the Department of Finance will be taken by Sean Fleming. The Laois man is a trained accountant who served as the party's financial director and is a former chair of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee.

And now, after just six weeks in a position he craved, Dara Calleary's political career is in tatters.

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