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Golfgate: Irish minister and senator resign after attending event that broke COVID-19 rules

Taoiseach Michéal Martin's government has been rocked by scandal after prominent politicians broke COVID-19 restrictions.
Taoiseach Michéal Martin's government has been rocked by scandal after prominent politicians broke COVID-19 restrictions.   -   Copyright  Johanna Geron/Associated Press
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A political crisis is engulfing the Irish government after it emerged that several prominent figures, including a government minister, senators, an EU commissioner and a Supreme Court judge, attended a golfing event that breached official COVID-19 rules.

The Minister of Agriculture, Dara Calleary resigned his post on Friday after it emerged he had attended a dinner for 80 people hosted by the Oireachtas Golf Society, a parliamentary group which organises regular golf outings.

The dinner was also attended by Senator Jerry Buttimer, the deputy chairperson of the Seanad, the Irish Senate, who also resigned on Friday.

Ireland's EU commissioner, Phil Hogan and Supreme Court justice and former Attorney General, Séamus Wolfe were also attendance at the event in Clifden, County Galway on Wednesday. They are both also facing calls to resign.

Current government restrictions cap indoor gatherings at up to 50 people, with further clarifications issued this week identifying only weddings and cultural events as being allowed this many attendees.

An Garda Síochána, Ireland's police force, is now investigating the event with attendees, including members of parliament and senators, set to face questioning.

Calleary is the second agriculture minister to resign from Taoiseach Michéal Martin's 54-day-old government after his predecessor Barry Cowen was sacked in July over the controversy surrounding a drink-driving ban imposed on him in 2016.

Martin's Fianna Fáil formed a coalition government on June 27 after protracted negotiations with historic rivals Fine Gael and the Green Party.

In a statement, the Taoiseach said: "His [Calleary's] attendance at this event was wrong and an error of judgement 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-19 regulations. This event should not have gone ahead in the manner it did given the Government decision of last Tuesday."

He added that Calleary had "made the right decision for the country."

Leo Varadkar, the Tánaiste or deputy prime minister, was also forced to remove the whip from several senators from his Fine Gael party who attended the event, including Buttimer.

In comments posted on Twitter, he said: "The event organised by the Oireachtas Golf Society should not have happened. I understand how extremely difficult the restrictions have been for people and the enormous sacrifices we have all made.

"Funerals, christenings, weddings, family holidays and other really important family occasions have been foregone to protect each other and the most vulnerable. As representatives, we should lead by example."

He added: "All have apologised profusely and accept they made a serious error of judgment."

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald criticised the government on Twitter, calling it "increasingly chaotic, confused, with no direction."

The event was organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Oireachtas Golf Society, which counts among its members several current and former parliamentarians, civil servants and journalists.

It is understood that the event included a golf tournament with prizes as well as a dinner for 80 guests at the Station House Hotel in Clifden.