A cabinet minister in the Irish government has resigned after he attended an indoor golf event with more than 80 people, which appeared to be in breach of coronavirus regulations.
Agriculture minister Dara Calleary stepped down and apologised “unreservedly” for attending a hotel dinner hosted by the Irish parliament’s golf society – only a day after the government tightened restrictions on gatherings.
Ireland’s government announced on Tuesday that indoor meetings would be limited to just six people in a bid to rein in one of the sharpest Covid-19 infection surges in Europe.
“Last night I attended a function I committed to a number of weeks ago… In light of the updated public health guidance this week I should not have attended the event. I wish to apologise unreservedly to everyone,” Mr Calleary tweeted on Thursday night.
Micheal Martin, the Irish premier, said in a statement on Friday: “This morning Dara Calleary tendered his resignation following his attendance at the Oireachtas golf dinner on Wednesday evening. His attendance at this event was wrong and an error of judgment on his part.”
Mr Calleary, deputy leader of the Fianna Fail party, received thousands of furious replies to his Twitter apology – many from people angry they had been unable to attend funerals or had to cancel holidays or weddings because of the restrictions.
He had only been in the post for a little over a month. His predecessor as agriculture minister, Barry Cowen, was sacked following a scandal over a drink-driving conviction.
Fine Gael senator Jerry Buttimer, who also attended the golf dinner, tendered his resignation as chair of the upper house of the Irish parliament. He apologised for the “serious lapse in judgement”.
A spokesman for the hotel claimed the sector’s representative body had said that until further guidance on the new restrictions was available, the dinner would adhere to rules, so long as fewer than 50 people dined in adjoining rooms.
The taoiseach made clear the gathering breached the new restrictions in his statement on Friday morning. “This event should not have gone ahead in the manner it did given the government decision of last Tuesday,” Mr Martin said.
European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan also attended the event at County Galway Station House Hotel, according to national broadcaster RTE.
An opposition member of parliament, Paul Murphy, said Mr Hogan’s attendance raised a question over whether he quarantined if he came from Brussels to attend the dinner.
Visitors from most EU countries, including Belgium, are required to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival in Ireland under some of the strictest travel restrictions in the bloc.
A spokesman for Hogan as saying the commissioner complied fully with all quarantine and restricted movement requirements on his return to Ireland, according to the Irish Independent.