Ireland – EU trade commissioner ‘broke public health guidelines’

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The Irish Government has said the EU’s trade commissioner breached its public health guidelines.

Phil Hogan maintains he broke no regulations while in Ireland but admitted making a series of journeys around the country during the pandemic.

He provided 20 pages of documents to the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen after she requested further details of his trip home earlier this month.

The senior politician said he believed he complied with rules designed to limit spread of coronavirus in the country.

Mr Hogan was among 81 guests who attended a controversial golf dinner in the west of Ireland.

He holds significant standing in Brussels and would be deeply involved in any deal with Britain after Brexit.

He returned to the Republic on July 31 and was required to restrict his movements for 14 days.

In a document published on the European Commission website, Mr Hogan said he tested negative for Covid-19 while in hospital for treatment on August 5 and claimed that “ended the self-restriction period”.

He told Irish broadcaster RTE: “I am satisfied arising from the test that I did that proved it was negative that I was no risk to anybody.

“Because of the fact that I had a negative test.

“Because my medical people said I was no risk to anybody. 

“I checked with the Citizens Information website which is funded by the HSE and I felt that I was no risk to anybody by going to Adare.

“I understand the perception. 

“I was covered by the regulations that my work-related activities and under the regulation there is a reasonable excuse mechanism that allowed me the exemption to do that.”

Ireland’s Health Department responded on Tuesday evening.

“The HSE guidance does not state that a negative (not detected) Covid-19 test shortens the 14 day restricted movement requirement.”

Following a request from Ms von der Leyen, Mr Hogan published a timeline of his movements in Ireland in which he revealed he played golf in Adare, Co Limerick, before returning to Kilkenny on August 13.

Another 92 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Ireland, the Health Department said.

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.

The trade and former agriculture commissioner has also been urged to consider his position by the leaders of the Republic’s coalition Government, Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar, after attending the dinner at a hotel in Clifden along with a number of other senior politicians and public figures.

The row has prompted more resignations in a new Government which has struggled to find its feet amid the pandemic.

Large social gatherings are discouraged in the country to hamper spread of the virus.

Pressure has been building on Mr Hogan to step down from his EU role.

“I accept this and have made a full apology to the Irish people for having done so.

“I was an invited guest to the event on August 19 2020 and was assured by the organisers and the hotel that it was being held in full compliance with all relevant Covid-19 rules.

“I had no reason to question or doubt that assurance, particularly in circumstances where an Irish Government Minister was attending and speaking at the event.

“Again I now recognise that the event should not have proceeded and I should not have attended.”

They said: “He should also have limited his movements to and from Kildare for essential travel only and he should not have attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner.”

The leaders said people were correctly angered, given the sacrifices so many have made to adhere to public health guidance.

“In addition, his delayed and hesitant release of information has undermined public confidence.”

They said they awaited the outcome of the President of the Commission’s review.

“Ultimately the commissioner is accountable to the EU Commission, not to the Irish government or to the Oireachtas.”

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