Minister quits amid outrage over virus double standards

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A Minister in the Dublin government has resigned this morning for attending a parliamentary jolly with more than 80 people, including several other politicians and ‘elite’ figures, which breached Covid-19 regulations.

Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary was a member of the Dublin cabinet which tightened nationwide coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday to try to suppress in a surge of virus infections, including limiting indoor gatherings to just six people.

But the following night, he was one of 81 people, including European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan, who attended a dinner hosted by the Dublin parliament’s golf society in a hotel in County Galway, according to the Irish Examiner.

Calleary’s admission he should not have attended the event, and an apology, were insufficient to quell a wave of anger overnight from those who have been unable to attend funerals or had to cancel holidays or weddings, or those who remain in tight lockdown in three counties.

Indoor gatherings have been restricted to 50 people under current public health controls in the 26 Counties, and only weddings and artistic and cultural events are included.

Household gatherings have been reduced to no more than six, and Gardaí police may soon be granted draconian powers to force their way into private homes to identify and count those present.

A spokesman from the Station House Hotel in Clifden, where the event was held, claimed it had been told the dinner would adhere to guidelines if the attendance were divided by a partition. Even that unlikely workaround was reportedly not adhered to, as the partition is understood to have been pulled back for speeches.

And while groups of up to ten shared tables at the function, the latest regulations also say tables in restaurants should not exceed six people.

The event, understood to have involved a golf competition followed by a dinner, was organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Oireachtas Golf Society.

According to the Irish Times, a person staying at the hotel said he saw no evidence of social distancing when he witnessed the attendees arriving: “At the reception people were being introduced to each other and shaking hands. No distancing and no masks. We were flabbergasted.”

Current Fine Gael Senators Jerry Buttimer and John Cummins also attended and both apologised in statements on Thursday night. Former Senator Donie Cassidy was among the organisers, as was the society’s outgoing Captain, Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish. Current penalties for breaching Covid-19 regulations include fines of up to €2,500 and prison sentences of up to six months.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin now faces the task of appointing a third Minister for Agriculture in less than eight weeks. While Mayo TD Dara Calleary held the post for 37 days, his predecessor, Offaly TD Barry Cowen, was sacked after just 17 days in a controversy over historic motoring offences.

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