Public figures who attended a golf dinner in Ireland with more than 80 people present committed a “monumental” error of judgment, the Taoiseach has said.
Micheal Martin said his former agriculture minister Dara Calleary had done the right thing in resigning amid a public backlash at the behaviour during the pandemic.
He urged Ireland’s European Commission member Phil Hogan to apologise wholeheartedly but refused to be drawn on the position of a newly appointed Supreme Court judge who was also present.
The Irish premier said: “It is important that those who make the rules observe the rules.”
Irish police are investigating whether the dinner, organised by the Irish parliament’s golf society in Clifden in the west of Ireland this week, and including a host of politicians, breached coronavirus regulations.
The Taoiseach denied his leadership had been damaged by the episode but acknowledged public anger compromised his Government’s messaging around the pandemic.
He told Irish broadcaster RTE: “It was a monumental error of judgment on behalf of all those who attended. I am deeply disappointed in what transpired.
“It compromises and potentially undermines the important communication of the public health message.”
Mr Calleary and Jerry Buttimer, deputy chairman of the Irish Senate, announced their resignations on Friday.
The speaker of Ireland’s Oireachtas parliament has suggested the golf society be wound up.
The row has engulfed a new Dublin coalition administration which has struggled to find its feet amid the pandemic crisis as the number of infections rises.
Mr Calleary is the second agriculture minister to resign in a matter of weeks.
The Taoiseach said: “I am deeply angered and upset with what happened.”
The event was held at the Station House Hotel in Connemara, Co Galway.
It has been reported that the hotel room was partitioned into two sections in an attempt to stay below the maximum number of attendees allowed under the rules.
Current coronavirus guidelines state that no more than 50 people should gather indoors and restrictions were tightened further during the week.
Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said it is “very clear” the dinner was not in line with public health guidance.
He added: “Similar events should not take place in the future.
“More broadly, I just want to give a message that we have come too far in this country and too many people have sacrificed too much for us to be veered off course at this point.”
Sinn Fein president and effective leader of Ireland’s opposition Mary-Lou McDonald said she had no idea there was an Oireachtas golf society.
“This is not a country club, this is a parliament.”
Mr Hogan is the European Commission’s representative for trade, one of the most high-profile positions, and is a prominent and deeply experienced member of Ireland’s governing Fine Gael party.
An EU commission spokeswoman said Mr Hogan had attended the event in good faith, on the clear understanding it would be in compliance with public health guidelines.
A representative of Mr Hogan said he would not have attended had he believed the event did not comply with Government guidelines.
The spokesperson said: “The Commissioner apologises for the distress caused by his participation.”
Former attorney general Seamus Woulfe is a highly-regarded lawyer.
He said: “I would never disregard governmental or health authorities’ advice regarding public health, and have been at pains to follow rules and guidelines since their introduction in March.
“That I ended up in a situation where breaches may have occurred, is of great regret to me, for which I am sorry. I unreservedly apologise.”
On Friday, Ireland’s department of health was notified of 79 new Covid-19 cases.
Three-quarters of the patients are aged under 45.
Dr Glynn said: “There’s a very justifiable and understandable anger in Ireland today.
“It’s not misplaced.
“But what I will also say, from my perspective as a clinician, is that the virus couldn’t care less about anger and in fact it’s only waiting for an opportunity for anger or complacency or any other emotion that will trip us up as a community and stop us adhering to the public health advice.”