European Commission president requests further details on Hogan golf dinner

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The president of the European Commission has requested further details about her trade supremo’s attendance at a controversial golf dinner in Ireland.

Pressure has been building on commissioner Phil Hogan to step down from his EU role after attending last week’s function with more than 80 people present.

Large social gatherings are discouraged in the country during the pandemic.

Mr Hogan is a senior Irish politician with significant standing in Brussels who would be deeply involved in any deal with Britain after Brexit.

Phil Hogan is under pressure after attending the golf event (Niall Carson/PA)

Her spokeswoman Dana Spinant told reporters: “This is a matter which requires careful assessment on our side.

“It is a matter where details count, therefore the president has requested Commissioner Hogan to provide a full report covering the matters… the president has received such a report from Commissioner Hogan last night.”

She added: “The president has requested further clarifications because details are important and she wishes to have them.”

Police are investigating whether coronavirus regulations were broken in holding the Irish Parliament’s golf society event two days after the Government announced it intended to curb the numbers permitted to gather together.

Ms Spinant said there were “moral aspects” involved in the need to follow coronavirus rules, as well as legal ones.

“We feel for the people of Ireland who, like many other people and communities in the European Union over the past months, had to go through difficult times to comply with strict regulations in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” she said.

“Many have lost loved ones, many others have been ill and others have suffered from the restrictions.

“This is a matter not just of respecting the rules, but this is also a matter of public health.”

The trade and former agriculture commissioner has also been urged to consider his position by the leaders of Ireland’s coalition Government, Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar, after attending the dinner at a hotel in the west of Ireland.

Taoiseach Mr Martin said that Mr Hogan should make a comprehensive statement to the Irish public.

Mr Martin said that information which confirmed Mr Hogan was stopped by gardai for using his mobile phone while driving in Co Kildare suggested there may be issues around whether he complied with the restrictions in that county.

The Taoiseach added that Mr Hogan told him he had not been in Kildare after the restrictions were put in place, however in a further statement Mr Hogan said he was in the county.

Mr Martin said this “creates doubts in our minds and unease”.

He told RTE’s Today with Clare Byrne: “The dinner itself should never have happened but if it emerged that in addition to the dinner that there was a breach of those restrictions in Kildare, I think that would have been particularly serious and that’s why we asked for a full explanation from the commissioner, and I think he should still give a full public statement.”

He said that during a weekend phone call with Mr Hogan, the commissioner “fully understood” the anger among Irish people.

Mr Martin said that Mr Hogan needs to be clear about what he did when he was in Ireland.

He added that he has confidence in him as an EU Commissioner.

On Monday, Ireland’s Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said that Mr Hogan should take responsibility for his actions.

Mr O’Brien also criticised the “drip feed” of information about Mr Hogan’s movements in Ireland.

“That’s unhelpful to say the least. The commissioner needs to realise how rightly people are so angry about this event and his participation in it,” he added.

The Oireachtas Golf Society event
The Station House Hotel in Clifden, Co Galway, where the Oireachtas Golf Society event was held last Wednesday (Hany Marzouk/PA)

Mr O’Brien also disputed claims that Mr Hogan’s removal from the high-profile post would not be in Ireland’s interest because of his role in the Brexit negotiations.

“I think to pin all our hopes on one individual is simplistic,” he said.

“I don’t really think that argument as a justification for the commissioner to stay on stands up. I understand the point that’s being made, but frankly our hopes and our strategy in relation to Brexit in the next few months are not just pinned on one individual.”

A resurgence in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks has led Ireland to backtrack on some of its measures reopening society after lockdown.

Trade is a central issue in the EU’s efforts to build agreement with the UK to mitigate any ill-effects from Brexit.

The commissioner is a native of Kilkenny in the south east of the country and a former Irish environment minister for Fine Gael.

It has also emerged that Mr Hogan was stopped by Irish police while driving in Kildare on August 17 for using his mobile phone.

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