Phil Hogan, the EU Commissioner for trade, has resigned his seat following a scandal back home in Ireland.
Hogan had broken Ireland’s coronavirus regulations when he attended a dinner at a golf club in County Galway earlier in the month which catered to some 80 guests. Large gatherings of that sort are not permitted in Ireland at present.
At the same time, Hogan’s offence was compounded as it later emerged he had made a non-essential detour to his home in Kilkenny, he says to pick up documents necessary for his work in Brussels. That detour only came to light because he was stopped by police and given a ticket for using his mobile phone while driving.
All along, Hogan tried to excuse his behaviour, claiming he had checked with the organisers of the dinner beforehand to make sure they had complied with all of the relevant coronavirus measures.
He then issued a statement in which he apologised “unreservedly” before going on to argue that no-one at the time of the dinner knew that the rules to tackle the virus had changed.
In the meantime, Hogan had been called onto the carpet by Taoiseach Micheál Martin (prime minister) and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar (deputy prime minister), where he was advised to “consider his position” – a diplomatic way of suggesting he might resign.
He now joins agriculture minister Dara Calleary and Jerry Buttimer, the chair of the Irish upper house among the victims of Golfgate, and his departure leaves Ireland hoping his replacement can hold on to the important portfolio of trade as Brexit looms.
Hogan tendered his resignation to Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
“I’m resigning because I want to ensure people understand I know I made mistakes,” he told the Irish Independent. “I broke no law – or no regulation – but I should have given more care to the guidelines and advice,” he said.
President Von der Leyen issued a brief statement: “He was a valuable and respected member of the College. I wish him all the best for the future.”
Taoiseach Martin said he had not been officially informed of Hogan’s resignation, but had learned of it via social media.
The three leaders of the coalition parties issued a joint statement: “We believe that it is the correct course of action given the circumstances of the past week. We all have a responsibility to support and adhere to public health guidelines and regulations. We all must persevere in our efforts against Covid-19. Former Commissioner Hogan has served Europe and Ireland with distinction. The Government will consider his replacement in due course.”