European Union Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan. RollingNews.ie file photo.
By Anthony Neeson
Pressure is mounting on EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan – in both Dublin and Brussels – following the fall-out from the Clifden golf dinner controversy.
Two months after its formation, Micheál Martin’s coalition government was thrown into further chaos last week when it came to light that several high profile Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politicians attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in County Galway.
Fianna Fáil’s Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary, who had been in the job must 37 days, has resigned, as did Fine Gael’s Leas-Cathaoirleach in the Seanad, Jerry Buttimer.
Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar has removed the party whip from three senators who were also in attendance. More than 80 people attended the function, including EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan and High Court Justice Seamus Woulfe. It comes at a time when the government has come under pressure from the public over Covid-19 restrictions.
The taoiseach said Mr. Calleary, who took over the agriculture reign from Barry Cowen - sacked by the taoiseach in a row over an historic drink driving ban only weeks after taking up the post - was “wrong and an error of judgement on his part” for attending the event.
“People all over the country have made very difficult, personal sacrifices in their family lives and in their businesses to comply with Covid regulations,” Martin said.
However, if the government had hoped that the crisis had passed, attention has now focused on Phil Hogan’s actions.
Taoiseach Martin has called on the EU trade commissioner – who is involved in high stakes Brexit negotiations – to make a comprehensive statement about his movements in County Kildare on the day in question. There are local restrictions in the county to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. It has also come to light that Mr. Hogan had been stopped by the Gardaí for using his phone while driving.
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has sought further details from Mr. Hogan, this despite having already received a report from him.
European Commission spokesperson Dana Spinant told a news briefing on Monday morning: “This is a matter which requires careful assessment on our side. This is a matter where details count.
“Therefore, the president has required Commissioner Hogan to provide a full report. The president has received such a report from Commissioner Hogan last night.
“She is now looking at it… the president has requested further clarifications because details are important and she wishes to have them.”
And it’s not just opposition parties heaping pressure on Hogan. In Dublin on Monday, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien added his voice to the growing calls for Hogan to step aside.
“The Taoiseach and Tánaiste have been pretty clear,” he said. “They’ve asked him to consider his position. He should.”