Ireland’s leaders have asked European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan to “consider his position” over his attendance at a golf society dinner that broke the country’s coronavirus restrictions.
The request from Prime Minister Micheál Martin and Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar marks a significant increase in pressure on Hogan, after the EU commissioner opted to stand his ground over the political scandal despite the resignation of Irish politicians.
“The Taoiseach (prime minister) and the Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) did speak with Commissioner Hogan today and asked him to consider his position,” a government spokeswoman said in a statement published by the Sunday Independent newspaper on Saturday evening, and also reported by Reuters.
“They both believe that the event should never have been held, that the Commissioner’s apology came late and that he still needs to give a full account and explanations of his actions,” the statement added.
Two senior Irish politicians, including the agriculture minister, resigned for attending the function at a 3-star hotel in the west coast county of Galway on Wednesday, as fury grew across the country that the top brass flouted the rules while expecting citizens to stay away from loved ones during the pandemic.
Hogan insisted in a statement Friday that he only attended the parliamentary golf society’s event, which gathered over 80 people for a dinner, after receiving assurances that it was in line with Ireland’s coronavirus restrictions.
But the high-profile EU commissioner is under renewed pressure to issue a fresh response after both major parties, including the leader of Hogan’s own Fine Gael party, asked him to consider stepping down.
Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary resigned Friday over his presence at the function, with both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael reprimanding their members for attending.
In comments to the broadcaster RTÉ on Friday evening, Prime Minister Martin said Hogan “should apologize” and “be far more fulsome in his response” to public criticism.
“I understand fully why people are so angry at what happened,” Martin said. However, he noted that Hogan “is a member of the European Commission. He is not within the jurisdiction of the Irish government,” he said, adding that President Ursula von der Leyen is responsible for governing the Commission.
A spokesperson for Hogan said on Saturday he had “apologized for his attendance.”
Hogan’s team said early Sunday morning that the commissioner had no comment at that time.
Police have launched an investigation into the dinner, the Irish Times reported. While it was not a criminal offense to attend such an event, organizers would be investigated and could be criminally prosecuted, the paper said, citing “informed sources.”
On Tuesday, the Irish government significantly tightened its coronavirus restrictions, reducing the number of people that can meet inside from 50 to just six, after a rise in infections.
The controversial event began Tuesday, featuring golf tournaments between guests, but the dinner took place after the new restrictions had entered into force on Wednesday.
A European Commission spokesperson did not say how long Hogan had stayed at the event at the Clifden Station House Hotel but told journalists on Friday: “In hindsight, he would not attend an event which is not in line with the obligations introduced at local level.”
Commission President von der Leyen had been informed about the matter, the spokesperson said.
A seating plan of the dinner posted online appeared to show Hogan was placed as a guest of honor at the top table, at the event which was held to mark the society’s 50th anniversary. The commissioner is one of six honorary lifetime members of the Oireachtas Golf Society — and the only one to have attended.
Accepting Calleary’s resignation, Martin called Calleary’s presence at the function “wrong and an error of judgement on his part.”
The scandal is yet another embarrassment for Hogan, whose most high-profile action in his second stint as an EU commissioner has been a botched attempt to run for the top job at the World Trade Organization.
Hogan also defended himself against suspicions he had not complied with Ireland’s requirement for travelers from Belgium to quarantine for two weeks, saying he had “fully complied” with the rule when he returned home in late July.
Famed for his gruff, no-nonsense political style and nicknamed Big Phil, the Irishman is an appointee of the conservative Fine Gael party, whose leader Varadkar expelled three politicians from the party on Friday for attending the same dinner.
Hogan, however, has a pedigree as a heavyweight political fixer within Fine Gael and is not an easy figure to budge. He is seen as a wily, experienced politician who helps Ireland punch above its weight in the EU.
Trade is a critical job for Ireland to hold during Brexit talks and there is no guarantee that any replacement commissioner nominated by Dublin would receive the same portfolio.
The government on Saturday agreed to recall the Irish parliament in the wake of the scandal. It had been due to resume on September 15 after a six-week recess.
Lili Bayer, Zosia Wanat and Laurens Cerulus contributed reporting. This story has been updated.
Click Here: NRL Telstra Premiership