Coalition in crisis over Covid dinner madness

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Micheál Martin’s coalition government has been deeply rocked by the fall-out from an anniversary dinner of the Dublin parliament’s Golf Society.

Over 80 people attended the event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the society at a hotel in County Galway on Wednesday night. The event appeared to openly flaut multiple public health guidelines on Covid-19.

A number of public figures attended the golf tournament and dinner at Clifden Station House Hotel on Wednesday night, including Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary, EU Commissioner Phil Hogan, Supreme Court judge and former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe, Circuit Court judge Pat McCartan, Independent TD Noel Grealish and senators Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, John Cummins and Jerry Buttimer, former top RTÉ broadcaster Sean O’Rourke, and several other high-profile figures from the worlds of politics, media and business.

Gardaí police have confirmed they are investigating the event.

At least one of the attendees, independent Monaghan councillor Paudge Connolly, has been accused of breaking international quarantine laws to attend the event, having recently returned from Spain.

The scale of public anger was laid bare on radio talk shows today. Grim tales of personal sacrifices by the public alternated with a tearful, intense fury at the current coalition government’s approach to the Coronavirus crisis.

Dara Calleary has now resigned as Minister; Jerry Buttimer has resigned as Leas Cathaoirleach [Deputy Speaker] of the Seanad (but not as Senator); Micheál Martin has removed the party whip from three Fianna Fáil Senators - Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt and Niall Blaney; Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar has removed the party whip from Senators Jerry Buttimer, Paddy Burke and John Cummins.

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan confirmed he attended, but has claimed he fully complied with guidelines, criticising the hotel; while former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe confirmed he attended, also believing the event complied with guidelines.

Earlier, Micheál Martin accepted Dara Calleary’s resignation saying his attendance at the golf event was “wrong”.

Mr Martin said: “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 Calleary’s “error of judgement” was “out of character”, adding: “He has made the right decision for the country, particularly in the light of our continued efforts to suppress Covid-19.”

Sinn Féin has said the situation revealed the level of dysfunction currently operating at the highest levels of government.

“I think it’s extraordinary that a minister who sat around the Cabinet table and made those decisions and supported the guidelines then but then breached those guidelines,” said Waterford TD David Cullinane.

“I think it smacks of arrogance but also I think it adds to that sense of confusion and chaos and the dysfunction we are seeing at the heart of this government.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she spoke to Taoiseach Micheal Martin and asked him to recall the parliament, but he refused.

“The Government is increasingly chaotic, confused, with no direction. They must be held to account,” she said.

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Agriculture, Matt Carthy, said that the latest controversy pointed to a need for more resignations.

He said there had been “a huge amount of anger and frustration” since the government’s announcement of further restrictions on activities on Tuesday, particularly as no mention was made of the plant or food processing factories, the main source of increasing numbers of Covid-19 infections in Ireland.

“There’s been a series of contradictory and difficult to comprehend statements from different government ministers and departments,” he said.

“The Government’s performance has been chaotic this week. We’ve seen the chaotic interviews that the Minister for Health [Stephen Donnelly] has been doing this week.

“All of those things combined are just leading to a real sense of distrust on the part of the public. The government doesn’t have the confidence of the people and that’s a really concerning position for us to be in.”

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