Digital Desk Staff
Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Séamus Woulfe is due to give evidence on Friday in the trial of four men over alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations during an Oireachtas Golf Society event.
Mr Justice Woulfe, a former attorney general, was appointed to the Supreme Court in July 2020 but did not sit on the court until last February following the controversy over his attendance at the ‘Golfgate’ dinner on August 19th, 2020.
As the Irish Times reports, lawyers for the two politicians and two hoteliers at the centre of the case in Galway District Court claimed on Thursday that they are being unfairly prosecuted.
Independent TD Noel Grealish, former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy, and hoteliers John and James Sweeney are before Galway District Court over the event at the Station House Hotel in Clifden.
The men’s legal representatives said their clients had complied with the regulations at all times during the two-day outing.
Eoghan Cole BL, prosecuting, said it was the State’s case that an indoor event was organised and attended by more than 50 people on the date in question.
He said the four defendants organised the event and did not take all reasonable steps to ensure the numbers present did not exceed those permitted at an indoor gathering at the time.
Mr Cole said the legislation then provided that an event organiser was “a person who is engaged in publishing, arranging, organising or managing an event”. He said it was the State’s case that all four accused had organised the event.
Colm Smyth SC, for Mr Cassidy, of the Square, Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, said his client was “a law-maker and not a law-breaker” and that the guidelines issued to hotels at the time were implemented.
“Everybody jumped on the bandwagon that these people ignored the rules, saying the rules didn’t apply to them. That was certainly not the case,” he said.
“And the press assumed that what the Government decided the night before had meaning for this event, but it didn’t - not until 10 days later,” he added in reference to the Government’s decision to further restrict indoor gathering numbers in August 2020.
Mr Smyth said the 80 people invited to the dinner were accommodated in two rooms. Referring to a copy of the guidelines handed into court, he said it permitted multiple gatherings provided distancing protocols were adhered to.
Whipping up hysteria
He said the function was organised as a mark of respect to the late Mark Killilea, a founding member or the society, and had not been a “frivolity”. He accused the media of “whipping up” hysteria and said “a lot of good people” had to resign from positions as a result of the outcry over the event.
He said Mr Cassidy took all precautions by checking regulations and guidelines and engaging with people in the Irish Hotels Federation and the Department of Tourism.
“My client was informed one of the rooms would accommodate 45 people and the other room the balance of the 81 in attendance and that is what was in place on the night,” he said.
Mr Cole said Mr Cassidy and Mr Grealish had invited 80 guests to one event and they had one dinner served by the same hotel staff in what was effectively one room.
“During the function the partition was altered for people to hear the speeches and there was no rigid separation. It was one event and not multiple gatherings,” he said.