Hysteria stirred over the golf dinner, but Covid rules were not broken, the trial said

Hysteria stirred over the golf dinner, but Covid rules were not broken, the trial said

In the trial of two politicians and two hoteliers for an alleged violation of Covid restrictions on organizing a golf society dinner it was said that “hysteria was flogged” and the guidelines were not broken.

A lawyer for one of the defendants told the Galway District Court on Thursday that “they all jumped on the train” to suggest that the defendants were ignoring Covid rules because they “occupied a particular status in society.”

Galway East Independent TD Noel Grealish, 55, former Senator Fianna Fail Donie Cassidy, 75, John Sweeney, 60, and their son James Sweeney, 32, owner of the Station House Hotel, are facing a lawsuit related to the organization of the Oireachtas Golf Society event.

All four face a single charge that on August 19, 2020, they organized an event that violated the Health Act of 1947, as amended, to prevent, limit, minimize or slow the spread of Covid-19.

The alleged crimes relate to a dinner that took place at the Station House Hotel, Clifden, Co Galway, on that date and was attended by 81 people.

The prosecution alleges that the four defendants fell within the legislative definition that prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people.

The court heard that the guidelines regarding meetings at indoor events within the hospitality sector were published by Failte Ireland at the time of the event.

Lead attorney Colm Smyth, representing Cassidy, said his client is “a legislator, not a lawbreaker.”

The Station House Hotel in Clifden, Co Galway, where the Oireachtas Golf Society (PA) event took place

(PA file)

Mr. Smyth told the court: “These were emergency guidelines to bring the hotel industry out of the lockdown.

“These guidelines were introduced in consultation with the Government. The published guidelines have the state logo and that official department insignia.

“This is an official department that the sector trusted.

“Those 81 people were housed in two separate rooms. This was an event that was not a spontaneous event. It was not a joke. This had been resolved a couple of years in advance.

“The public was impressed that these were people of social prestige, former members of Parliament. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon to suggest that these people were ignoring (rules) and because they occupied a particular status in our society, that the rules didn’t apply to them.

“All of this started when the government had an emergency meeting in relation to introducing more restrictions. The press assumed that what the Government had decided the night before had legal effect and significance for this fact.

“It didn’t because the regulations weren’t in place for a considerable time and didn’t become law until 10 days later.

“The press got involved, as they have a right to, but public sentiment was stirred and hysteria was stirred by this and a lot of very good people had to resign.”

He asked Judge Mary Fahy to rule on the status of Failte Ireland’s guidelines.

He added that Cassidy has no prior convictions.

John Sweeney 60, right, and James Sweeney, 32, arriving at court (Andrew Downes / PA)

(PA Wire)

Grealish, of Carnmore, was the captain of the golf society, while Cassidy, of Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, was its president.

Public reaction to the event led to the resignation of then-Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary, while several other senators from Fianna Fail and Fine Gael lost the party whip.

European Commissioner Phil Hogan also resigned on the matter.

Supreme Court Justice Seamus Woulfe, now a Supreme Court Justice, who also attended the event, was pressured to resign.

Judge Woulfe insisted that his actions did not justify his losing his job.

Mr. Smyth referred to a statement from Mr. Woulfe, describing him as one of the “important witnesses.”

“Former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe was responsible for introducing a number of statutory instruments covering the Covid emergency,” added Mr. Smyth.

“Up to 50 regulations were introduced under his supervision.

“There is a statement from Mr. Woulfe in which he said: ‘From my time as attorney general, I knew that the rules contained in statutory instruments, such as those that organize social events, are often developed in more detail between a particular sector, for example, the hospitality sector and government authorities, through an agreed protocol or guidelines’ ”.

Mr. Smyth said Cassidy took “all appropriate measures.”

He added: “He took all precautions and knew the law and the applicability of the law.

Donie Cassidy 75, arriving at court for trial (Andrew Downes / PA)

(PA Wire)

“He would say that he is a legislator and not a lawbreaker. He did the necessary inquiries and checked the rules and guidelines. “

He said Cassidy had been satisfied that she was meeting the relevant guidelines.

Mr. Smyth said of the event: “There was a dividing wall that divided two suites. In effect, two suites were created. This is the position that complied with the guidelines established by the protocol established by the Government for the opening of the hotel sector.

He said “there is no case” against his client.

Michael McDowell, who appears for Grealish, told the court that his client was not involved in organizing the event.

“He was not involved in the preparations for the president’s dinner,” McDowell added.

“The exit from the company was divided into two days. My client, as captain, was responsible for some aspects of the first day.

“The second day was President’s Day and President’s Dinner.

“The court will be convinced that, based on all the evidence, it did not organize them within the definition. This was not organized by him, he did not publicize it, nor did he organize it, nor did he administer it ”.

Lead attorney Eddie Walsh, who appeared before hotelier John Sweeney, said the event was organized in accordance with the law.

He said guidelines were introduced for entrepreneurs to act on and build on.

He added: “Unfortunately I have to say, from what (the prosecutor) seems to be saying, presumably on the instructions of the director of the DPP. Now there seems to be an attempt on the part of the director or perhaps the state to dissociate and resist, or to distinguish the guidelines that the government was seeking to introduce.

The trial is expected to last up to five days and more than 50 prosecution witnesses will be summoned.

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