THERE is fury within political circles in Cork following the controversial Oireachtas Golf Society dinner.
Fine Gael's Senator Jerry Buttimer has resigned from his position as Leas Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, while Fianna Fail's Deputy Dara Calleary resigned as Minister for Agriculture, after confirming they had attended the dinner in Clifden on Wednesday. The Taoiseach is now the acting Minister for Agriculture until the Dáil returns next month from its summer break.
The Dáil needs to be recalled to deal with the fall out from this latest crisis to hit the government. That is according to two Cork politicians, following the controversial dinner in the Station House Hotel which was attended by more than 80 guests.
Social Democrats agriculture spokeswoman Holly Cairns said yesterday: "The resignation of Minister Calleary is symptomatic of the contradictory messaging and widespread confusion that has followed Tuesday’s announcement of new restrictions. The events of the past 24 hours highlight the need for all relevant Government ministers to come into the Dáil and clearly explain what the strategy is for dealing with this pandemic. Since the Dáil went into recess at the end of July, the Government has lurched from one crisis to the next. We have had three counties in lockdown for the past fortnight."
She added: "The days following the announcement have been characterised by a bizarre television appearance by the Minister for Health and clarification after clarification from various Government departments. In addition, there are serious concerns over the fairness of the Leaving Certificate results and parents and students also need reassurance that schools and colleges can still safely reopen as planned. The confusing messaging on the latest restrictions raises questions about this Government’s ability to manage the pandemic and safely reopen our damaged economy. Unless there is a coherent approach by the Government, there will be severe implications for our health service, education system and general economy."
Her call for the Dáil to be recalled was echoed by the Green Party Cork city councillor Lorna Bogue, who told The Echo: "We absolutely need to recall the Dáil. This is not fair on the agriculture sector.
"How is Micheál Martin supposed to take on this brief?"
Cllr Bogue added that the Covid-19 crisis should have been at the forefront of Deputy Calleary's mind, given that his role in the Agriculture portfolio meant his brief included the meat sector. In recent weeks, there have been a number of clusters of the coronavirus in meat plants across the country.
And she said she had never seen her constituents so annoyed. She elaborated: "Some of it is annoyance but some of it is genuine anger because of the optics of flouting the rules while everybody is making sacrifices. I cannot attend the wedding of a close friend and that is fine, but it seems people in certain positions can do whatever they like."
She also said that EU Trade Commissioner, Phil Hogan, who also attended the event, has shown disrespect to Irish laws by attending.
She added: "This is not just a misdemeanour."
She continued that Supreme Court justice and former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe had been involved in drawing up the legislation for the Covid-19 public health restrictions.
She added: "He helped write the legislation that he has flouted."
Last night, the Ceann Comhairle, Sean Ó Fearghaíl, released a statement saying he had written to the secretary of the Oireachtas Golf Society.
The letter said: "While recognising that the Golf Society operates independently of the Oireachtas, I write to suggest that, in the aftermath of this week's events in Clifden, the society as it is currently structured and named, be wound up as a matter of urgency."
The letter continued: "This I believe is a necessary action for the society in the aftermath of this week's events. The event has seriously undermined and damaged public confidence in the Oireachtas and in what I hope is our mutual commitment to public health and to the people we serve."
Cllr Bogue's colleague on Cork City Council, Fine Gael's Cllr Des Cahill, said that any politician who attended the Clifden dinner "is simply not fit to hold any public office".
He told The Echo however that the Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader, Leo Varadkar, acted fast in stripping the party whip from Senator Buttimer and two other Fine Gael senators who had attended the dinner.
He said that elected representatives have to play by higher rules than others and he described the event as "mind boggling".
He added: "It is very clear cut - it should never have happened."
Fianna Fáil's Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan said his family had cancelled an event due to take place in the coming weeks because of the new restrictions on indoor gatherings announced by the government on Tuesday.
He said: "I am extremely disappointed. I think the people deserve better from public representatives."
Sinn Féin's two Cork city TDs also slammed the event.
Cork South Central TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said: "The issues around the golf dinner are deeply upsetting and frustrating for people who have made major sacrifices. This government is chaotic. At a time when the country needs leadership and direction they are getting chaos and dysfunction."
He added: "This week already we have seen Ministers and Departments contradicting each other. We have had a U turn on school transport. We have had sporting bodies alienated. Issues are being raised about the test and track capacity. We have had no action on clusters in meat factories or Direct Provision. People are fast losing confidence in this government’s ability to manage this pandemic."
Cork North Central TD Thomas Gould said: "This isn’t just about Dara Callery. There is a much bigger issue at play here. Prominent Fine Gael politicians took the same decision, Ireland's EU Commissioner likewise but the real issue for people out there is at a time when we are in a global health emergency we have the most dysfunctional and chaotic government the state has ever seen."
Taoiseach Micheál Martin addressed the controversy in an interview last night.
Speaking to RTÉ's Six One News, the Taoiseach described the event as "very wrong" and said he understood the anger of the public across the country.
He said it was "a monumental error of judgement" on behalf of those who attended, in whom he was deeply disappointed.
"It undermines the public health message about reducing contacts ... it flew in the face of all that. I understand Dara Calleary showed leadership and accountability by resigning. He did the right thing. He has apologised to public health officials," said Mr Martin. "I did not expect this in any shape or form."
Mr Martin said that European Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan, who attended the dinner and has yet to issue an apology, should issue one in understanding of the public's outrage.
When asked if his leadership had been damaged by events, Mr Martin said that unanticipated events happened in politics and that the important thing was to respond "forcefully, firmly and with focus".
But the Taoiseach said he had no intention of recalling the Dáil.
Speaking to RTÉ's Six One News, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said politicians were elected to the Dáil - which wasn't "a country club" - and the house should be sitting.
She said "she had no idea there was such a thing as an Oireachtas Golfing Society" and the golfing event in Clifden should not have gone ahead.
"We've a Government that has descended to new levels of chaos" and this is "the last straw for people", she said as she called for the Dáil to be recalled.
Numerous apologies have been issued, including from Galway-West TD Noel Grealish who said it was an error of judgement but insisted that he exercised social distancing throughout.
Mr Hogan has defended his attendance at the event, saying he had been assured by the Irish Hotels Federation that it adhered to public health guidelines.