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Phil Hogan submits account on travel to golf event to European Commission

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European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has received a report from embattled commissioner Phil Hogan on his movements around the time of the controversial Oireachtas Golf Society dinner.

Mr Hogan has been under pressure since he attended a meal at a hotel in Clifden, Co Galway last week, at which more than 80 people gathered in apparent breach of public health guidelines.

Initial statements provided by his spokesman claiming Mr Hogan travelled “directly” from Co Kilkenny to the event in Co Galway have since proven to be incorrect. Mr Hogan’s team has said that he returned to Co Kildare, where local lockdown measures are in place, on his way to the golf event to collect items from his residence at the K-Club. He was stopped by gardaí in the county for using his mobile phone while driving.

Dr von der Leyen then requested further details and clarification from the commissioner because “she wishes to be informed in detail about the facts, but she also wishes to understand the circumstances, she wishes simply to have the complete picture.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan discussed the controvery surrounding Mr Hogan and the golfing society dinner on Tuesday morning.

‘Detailed report’

Mr Hogan’s office said the information had been provided to Dr von der Leyen at lunchtime on Tuesday after she sought “a detailed report” from the trade commissioner.

“The president also encourages Commissioner Hogan to publish the timeline of his moves in Ireland during the period that he stayed there to ensure full transparency,” said European Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant.

“Once the detailed report is available the president will feel confident that she has the full picture which will enable her to complete her assessment.”

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has called for Mr Hogan to resign, while Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar asked him to consider his position.

Ms Spinant said it was “premature” to discuss any potential sanctions on the commissioner and whether Dr von der Leyen could ask him to resign.

“It is absolutely premature to discuss about any sanctioning or anything like that, we are at the level where the president is looking forward to receiving a report on the matter under discussion,” she said.

Dr von der Leyen has also encouraged Mr Hogan to make himself available to take questions, Ms Spinant added – which would be the first time he has appeared in public since the scandal broke.

‘Zero comment’

The owner of the hotel that hosted the controversial dinner, to mark the golfing society’s 50th anniversary, has said he will be making “zero comment” on the debacle.

Galway businessman John Sweeney, who owns the Station House Hotel, said he was “saying absolutely nothing” in response to the political storm that has erupted over the event.

“At the appropriate time the hotel will have something to say,” he told The Irish Times.

Mr Sweeney is a well-known Galway businessman and hotelier, and he was part of a consortium that previously acquired Dublin’s five-star Shelbourne Hotel in 2004. However, his business interests were severely hit during the economic crash.

His name was listed on the seating plan for the dinner, and other guests included Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary, who resigned as minister for agriculture over the controversy; Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe; and a host of former and sitting Oireachtas members – predominantly from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The Supreme Court has asked former chief justice Susan Denham to review whether Mr Justice Woulfe should have attended the dinner.

The three-course dinner rounded off two days of golf at Connemara Golf Club in Ballyconneely. There had been a divider in place splitting the function room, and the divider was pulled back during a series of speeches at the event.

Previous limits allowing up to 50 people to attend indoor gatherings had been reduced to just six people as part of measures announced by the Government in response to a rise in Covid-19 cases the day before the dinner.

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