Agriculture Minister attends indoor event with 81 people in breach of public health guidelines

Agriculture Minister attends indoor event with 81 people in breach of public health guidelines

THE MINISTER for Agriculture has apologised after he was found to have attended an indoor event with 80 other people.

Dara Calleary attended the Oireachtas Golf Club event in Clifden, Connemara, with multiple other government officials,including some senators and TDs.

The event occurred the day after new restrictions were imposed on the public to slow the spread of the coronavirus following a Government meeting-- at which Mr Calleary was present-- with the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

The new restrictions include the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings being reduced from 50 people to 6 people, and "no formal or informal events or parties should be organised" in hotel restaurants.

The Irish Examiner broke the story last night, and Minister Calleary later apologised "unreservedly" for attending the event.

"Last night I attended a function I committed to a number of weeks ago, to pay tribute to a person I respected and admired greatly," the Minister wrote on Twitter.

"In light of the updated public health guidance this week I should not have attended the event. I wish to apologise unreservedly to everyone.

"We are asking quite a lot from everyone at this difficult time. I also offer this apology and my sincere regret to my government colleagues."

The newspaper obtained a guest list of those Oireachtas Golf Club members who had been invited to attend, with up to 10 people sitting at each table, breaching health guidelines which state no more than six should be seated at any table.

Notable people on the guest list included Dara Calleary, TD Noel Grealish, Senator Paul Daly, Senator Niall Blaney, former Senator Cáit Keane, Judge and former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe, Moroccan Ambassador Lahcen Mahroui, former senator Loirraine Higgins, former Senator and TD Gerry Reynolds, former Senator Imelda Henry, and Circuit Court judge Pat McCartan.

Not every person on the list has been confirmed as having been in attendance, however Senator Jerry Buttimer is among those who admitted and apologised after the story broke last night.

He wrote on Twitter:

"I attended an event at the Station House Hotel in Connemara last night.

In light of the updated public health advice, I should not have attended. I apologise for this, in doing so I am mindful of the tremendous effort made by everyone since March to try & beat this virus, flattening the curve by adhering to public health advice and lockdown measures.

"This was a lapse of judgement on my part for which I sincerely apologise."

EU Trade Commissioner, Fine Gael's Phil Hogan is also reported as having attended the event.

The hotel in question told The Irish Examiner they believed the event could go ahead as they had partitioned the room to allow for 45 people on one side and 36 on the other.

However it is reported that the partition was left slightly open to allow waiting staff to move between the two rooms easily.

"It was booked a few months ago, the guidelines were going to change 50 up to 100 but didn't, so we spoke to the Oireachtas Golf Society, and the Irish Hotel Federation (IHF), and we were told that as long as there were no more than 50 diners, it was safe," a spokesperson told the newspaper.

Dara Calleary has been in the position of Minister for Agriculture for just one month, after the previous minister, Barry Cowen, was sacked after 17 days when a drink-driving ban from 2016 came to light shortly after he accepted the role.

Minister Calleary was expected to make a round of breakfast interviews this morning to defend his position, however these interviews have been cancelled with little notice.