Latest: Michael McGrath blasts 'bad example' of golf dinner; Jerry Buttimer has whip removed

Latest: Michael McGrath blasts 'bad example' of golf dinner; Jerry Buttimer has whip removed
Senator Jerry Buttimer attended the 80 person dinner. Photo: Leah Farrell/

The sanction was taken against senators Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt and Niall Blaney.

It followed a similar move by Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar this morning, against Senators Jerry Buttimer, Paddy Burke and John Cummins.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach will also hold the Minister for Agriculture portfolio until the Dáil returns next month from its summer recess.

FROM EARLIER: THE Fine Gael party whip has been removed from Senator Jerry Buttimer by the Tánaiste`and party leader, Leo Varadkar.

Two other Fine Gael senators - Paddy Burke and John Cummins - have also had the whip removed. All three attended the controversial Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in the Station House hotel in Clifden, Co Galway, on Wednesday night.

In a statement in the last few minutes, the Tánaiste said: "The event organised by the Oireachtas Golf Society should not have happened. I understand how extremely difficult the restrictions have been for people and the enormous sacrifices we have all made. Funerals, christenings, weddings, family holidays and other really important family occasions have been foregone to protect each other and the most vulnerable. As representatives we should lead by example."

He added: "In recognition of the seriousness of this matter, I have removed the party whip from Senators Jerry Buttimer, Paddy Burke and John Cummins. Senator Jerry Buttimer has also resigned his position as Leas-Chathaoirleach of the Seanad. 

"All have apologised profusely and accept they made a serious error of judgment." 

Supreme Court Judge Seamus Woulfe has also apologised for attending the dinner.

In his previous role as Attorney General, he was involved in drawing up public health regulations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement, he confirmed his attendance as an invited guest at "one day of the Oireachtas Golf Society outing in Ballyconneally" on Wednesday.

His statement continues: "I was not aware in advance that there was going to be an organised dinner as part of the event. On learning of the proposed dinner during the course of that day, my understanding was that the organisers and the hotel had satisfied themselves that they would be operating within Government public health guidelines."

"I attended based on that understanding, that it would be within the guidelines, but do apologise for any unintentional breach of any of the new guidelines on my part.

"I would never disregard governmental or health authorities advice regarding public health and have been at pains to follow rules and guidelines since their introduction in March."

"That I ended up in a situation where breaches may have occurred, is of great regret to me, and for which I am sorry. I unreservedly apologise"

UPDATED: MINISTER for Finance Michael McGrath has said there is now a risk that the general public will see the "bad example" set by those who attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner as a reason why not to follow public health advice.

He was speaking following the resignations of former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Dara Calleary and former Leas Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Jerry Buttimer, after it emerged they were among more than 80 people who attended the event in Clifden on Wednesday night.

A garda investigation is now underway into the event to examine alleged breaches of The Health Act 1947 (Section 31A-Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No.3) Regulations 2020.

Minister McGrath told The Echo: "Those who attended should never have attended. It is only the general public who can win the battle against this deadly virus. Avoidable events like this undermine the government's ability to win the argument. That is the harsh truth."

He continued: "There is a risk that some members of the public will see the bad example that has been set by people in really senior positions of leadership, and not follow public health advice."

Pressure has also been mounting on EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan, and Supreme Court Judge Seamus Woulfe, who also attended the dinner.

Minister McGrath said the government now needs "to double down on our efforts to get the message back on track."

He said the focus needs to be on the restrictions announced on Wednesday - just hours before the controversial dinner - until September 13, to ensure the recent increase in Covid-19 can be brought under control.

"This is about protecting public health and saving lives. Those who do not follow the advice need to be held accountable."

He said it is the government's top priority now to ensure that children can return to school "in the interests of children and society".

He refused to be drawn on whether the Dáil should be recalled, saying that it is a matter for the Taoiseach, Mícheál Martin, and the Ceann Comhairle, Sean Ó Fearghaíl.

EARLIER: Cork Senator Jerry Buttimer has announced his resignation as Leas Cathaoirleach of the Seanad in the past few minutes. 

The Cork politician was among more than 80 people who had attended an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner held at the Station House hotel in Galway on Wednesday night.

Last night, Senator Jerry Buttimer had apologised for attending the event.

In a post on social media he said "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 & lockdown measures. This was a lapse of judgement on my part for which I sincerely apologise."

More to follow. 

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