The Irish commissioner to the European Commission, Phil Hogan, has been advised to “consider his position” after he apologised for attending a golf club dinner in breach of Ireland’s coronavirus rules.
Hogan attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in County Galway early last week, along with about 80 other people, including agriculture minister Dara Calleary and Jerry Buttimer, the chair of the Irish upper house. Both men have since been forced to resign over the matter after the story – now christened Golfgate – broke in the press on Thursday.
Hogan, meanwhile, remains in place as the EU commissioner in charge of trade in the commission of Ursula von der Leyen.
At first, he had claimed he checked with the organisers of the event to make sure the arrangements were in line with regulations.
On Saturday, Hogan met with Taoiseach Micheál Martin (prime minister) and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar (deputy prime minister) and was asked “to consider his position” as commissioner – a diplomatic way of advising him to resign to avoid further scandal.
At the time of writing, Hogan had not done so. He did, however, made a second public apology – “fully and unreservedly” – for attending the dinner.
“I want, in particular, to apologise to the wonderful healthcare workers, who continue to put their lives on the line to combat Covid-19 and all people who have lost loved ones during this pandemic,” he said.
“I acknowledge my actions have touched a nerve for the people of Ireland, something for which I am profoundly sorry.”
He mentioned his meeting with Martin and Varadkar, and their advice to him.
“I spoke to both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste yesterday and I have listened carefully to their views, which I respect. I have been reporting to the President of the European Commission on all these matters in recent days,” he said.
Speaking to national broadcaster RTÉ, Varadkar said he had understood from their meeting that Hogan “believes that he’s broken no law”.
“That may well be the case,” he went on. “He does accept that he may have breached some of the government’s public health guidelines, but he believes that’s an honest mistake, that he’s not a resident in the country and wouldn’t be as familiar with them as a Cabinet minister, for example, who signed off on them.”
Asked whether Hogan’s apology would end the matter, he replied, “The apology helps. It would have been better if it had come sooner but it definitely helps. I think as well he needs to account for himself and explain his own actions.”
Meanwhile, opposition Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it would be “intolerable” for Hogan to continue without the support of Martin and Varadkar.
“It is very clear that he has lost the confidence of the government. That really means game over. It would be very, very alarming and would deepen the sense of crisis and chaos if the commissioner were to stay on despite having lost the confidence of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste,” she said.
The European Commission in Brussels, meanwhile, has not commented, but questions are likely to arise this coming week, following Hogan’s meeting and the advice of government leaders in Dublin.