Phil Hogan’s attendance at the Golfgate dinner was not the only issue that led to his resignation as European commissioner, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.
The Fine Gael leader said Mr Hogan was a “very good commissioner” and “everyone would have preferred if things had turned out differently, but they turned out as they did for a particular reason”.
The Oireachtas Golf Society dinner should have been cancelled, he added, and if it had been “I don’t think anybody would have suffered the way they did”.
The Tánaiste was responding to Mr Hogan’s comments in newspaper interviews in recent days indicating that he might seek compensation from the European Commission over the events that led to his resignation in August 2020.
Mr Hogan’s comments come in the wake of the decision by a judge in Galway this month to acquit two other politicians and two hoteliers charged with breaching Covid-19 regulations and laws at the dinner in Clifden, Co Galway.
Speaking in Berlin, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the issues raised by Mr Hogan in his interviews are between him and the commission.
“He has paid a very heavy price for the situation at the time … but as I said before there was a context to that time in terms of where the public were in terms of adherence to guidance and the spirit of Covid guidance.”
At the time of the controversy, Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar asked Mr Hogan to consider his position. The commission initially defended Mr Hogan after the news of the dinner broke.
But relations with him deteriorated during a slow drip of revelations that he had appeared in various locations around Ireland during a 14-day quarantine period which, as someone arriving from Brussels, he was subject to at the time.
The Irish Times previously reported how Mr Hogan was asked by commission president Ursula von der Leyen to present a full itinerary of his movements and trust broke down when this was found to be incomplete. Mr Hogan apologised for making mistakes following his resignation, but insisted he had broken no laws.
After the result of the court case in Galway, a commission spokesman pointed out that the ruling concerned only the Golfgate dinner itself and suggested various other acts by Mr Hogan had led to his resignation.
In his remarks in recent days, Mr Hogan has not ruled out seeking compensation from the commission over the events that led to his resignation.
Mr Varadkar said: “I think given that legal action may be pending, it’s probably wise for me not to say anything really at this stage.”
When asked whether he regrets his part in Mr Hogan’s departure and the loss of the trade commissioner role for Ireland, Mr Varadkar referred to the recent comments by the commission’s spokesman who he said “pointed out that there were a number of issues at play. It wasn’t just the issue of the of the dinner in Clifden”.
Mr Varadkar added: “The whole thing is regrettable. Of course it is. Not just for Mr Hogan but for anyone who is involved. But we have to remember the circumstances as they actually occurred . . . the Government took a decision, the Taoiseach announced on the Six One News that all indoor events, all parties were to be cancelled, that no more than six people were supposed to meet in a pub or a restaurant or a hotel and he said it was effective immediately.”
Should have been cancelled
He said it is the case that the law wasn’t changed for another nine or 10 days but that the dinner “should have been cancelled” when the Government made its announcement.
“I regret that that event was not cancelled that night. Had it been I don’t think anybody would have suffered the way they did,” said Mr Varadkar.
Meanwhile, Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan has said he “has sympathy” for Mr Hogan and for Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary, who resigned as minister for agriculture following his attendance at the dinner.