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Doubts grow in Dublin, Brussels over Phil Hogan’s future amid controversy over golf event travel

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European Commission chiefs were last night examining the account given by EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan about his movements in Ireland before and after a golf dinner amid a growing belief in Dublin and Brussels that his position is under threat.

Senior Government sources expect clarification in the coming hours from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen who yesterday asked for further information from Mr Hogan just hours after he submitted a dossier on his movements.

It has emerged that following Ms von der Leyen’s request there were “further contacts” but an EU source last night sounded a pessimistic note saying they “could not say whether she received all clarifications or not”.

It is understood Ms von der Leyen wants to be “thorough” and does not want to rush her assessment.

There are growing doubts among senior Ministers that Mr Hogan can hold on to his role as EU trade commissioner. He came under pressure after it emerged that initial statements by his spokesman claiming he travelled “directly” from Co Kilkenny to the controversial Oireachtas Golf Society event in Co Galway were incorrect.

Mr Hogan’s team have since admitted he returned to Co Kildare on his way to the golf event to collect items from his residence at the K-Club and was stopped by gardaí in the county for using his mobile phone while driving.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has called on Mr Hogan to give the public absolute assurances that he did not break coronavirus restrictions.

“That to me would be very, very serious indeed,” said Mr Martin.

“The public need to know that restrictions in Kildare were not breached,” he added. The county was in lockdown at the time of the golf event in Galway last week and continues to remain so.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said earlier that Mr Hogan should resign.

He also said the commissioner has to be “really clear about his whereabouts and his actions over that period of time. The drip feed of information is less than helpful, I still don’t think he understands how angry people are about this and rightly so.”

European Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant said it was “important that rules are respected. This is a matter not just on respecting the rules but this is also a matter of public health. There are legal aspects involved and there are moral aspects involved as well.”

She added that “it is important of course for the president that rules are respected in respect to coronavirus rules and quarantine regulations . . . It is essential that all facts are being provided, are being put on the table with the necessary clarifications and details.”

‘Justifiably angry’

Meanwhile, the State’s acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said he did not think the anger over Mr Hogan’s behaviour last week would affect the public solidarity needed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

He understood that people are “justifiably angry” about what happened and there “can’t be any excuses” when it “shouldn’t haven’t happened”. But he felt that once people take a step back they will realise the importance of following the public health measures.

“I don’t think solidarity will be affected by this, current anger notwithstanding,” he said.

Dr Glynn also sounded a “note of caution” about Covid-19 cases increasing in Dublin.

There were a further 147 confirmed cases of the disease reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Monday, including 73 in Dublin. No further deaths were reported.

The increased cases in Dublin were spread across the county but the number of infections were “slightly higher” in Dublin west, Dublin northwest and Dublin north central, he said.

“Unlike what we saw in Kildare, Laois and Offaly, there isn’t one or two defined clusters guiding this in Dublin. It is spread out across areas, across settings, across workplaces and with a significant proportion of community transmission,” he added.

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