Guests attending a controversial golf society dinner told a court that the organizers assured them that the event was in compliance with Covid laws.
In the trial of two politicians and two hoteliers, facing charges for violating coronavirus regulations, no one at the event expressed any concern that the meeting would violate the rules on indoor gatherings.
Galway East TD independent 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 on trial charged with illegally hosting the Oireachtas Golf Society event. .
The four face a single charge that, on August 19, 2020, organized an event that violated the Health Law of 1947, as amended, to prevent, limit, minimize or slow the spread of Covid-19.
The alleged crime is related to a dinner that took place at the Station House Hotel, Clifden, County Galway, which was attended by 81 people.
The trial takes place in the Galway District Court and is likely to last several days.
Former Leinster House Guards Captain John Flaherty, who attended the event, was among those who testified.
Before the event, he spoke to organizers who assured him it was in “consultation” with Failte Ireland’s guidelines, he said.
“I called and spoke to the hotel,” Flaherty said.
“I not only called several weeks before, but also two or three days before.
“They assured me that all precautions would be taken.”
Flaherty told the court that he was directed to his seat and sat at a table with former TD Michael Harty, Senator Paddy Burke and announcer Sean O’Rourke.
Mr. Flaherty said there was no movement of people in the room and that the guests “stayed at the table” to which they were assigned.
He said dinner ended around 11pm.
His opinion patterns were being observed at all times, he told the court.
“I would not have participated if I had known that he was breaking the rules,” he added.
“Personally, I was satisfied that it was being carried out according to the guidelines. I felt safe. “
Rod McAuliffe, who was a guest of Mr. Flaherty, said: “(The staff) were very blunt in wearing masks and there was no bar service.
“It was all table service.
“They told me to wear a mask and the staff wore masks.”
McAuliffe said there was a partition between the two rooms, but he couldn’t see or hear anyone in the other room.
He said it was partially open for a series of speeches by Cassidy, Grealish and Phil Hogan.
He said that no one expressed any concern about whether the event violated Covid guidelines or regulations.
“Everything was so strict with Covid,” he said.
“Mr. Sweeney was supervising the dinner and it was impeccable management and it was carried out in a very satisfactory manner.”
Cait Hayes, a member of the Oireachtas Golf Society, said she checked the room before the event started as she was there with a friend who was “medically compromised.”
“He looked absolutely good and I was very happy with him,” she said.
Ms Hayes said she sat at a table with seven other people, including the head of the Irish Banking and Payments Federation Brian Hayes.
She told the court that there was no socializing between tables.
Fianna Fail Senator Aidan Davitt said he thought the event was “extremely professionally organized.”
“They were on top of their game at the hotel. Politicians and a commissioner attended, and they wanted to do their best, ”Davitt said.
“There was no mixing of the tables and it was taken very seriously.”
Monaghan County Council Councilor Paudge Connolly, a member of the Oireachtas Golf Society, said the room was “exceptionally well laid out.”
“They were two separate entrances. If you wanted to go to the bathroom, there was a separate area, “he added.
“It reassured me a lot. I stayed for the awards show and there was a public address system, and it let them know what was happening in the other room.
“You couldn’t see what was happening. The only thing missing was a screen. “
Earlier, the court was told that “hysteria broke out” after the event.
An attorney for one of the defendants told the Galway District Court that “they all jumped on the bandwagon” to suggest that the defendant was ignoring the Covid rules because they “occupied a particular status in society.”
There was a legal argument about the interpretation of the indoor meeting guidelines, particularly those that were published by Failte Ireland.
Lead attorney Colm Smyth, representing Cassidy, said his client is “a legislator, not a lawbreaker.”
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 it has a right to, but public sentiment was stirred and hysteria stirred over this and a lot of very good people had to resign.”
Mr. Smyth asked Judge Mary Fahy to rule on the status of the Failte Ireland guidelines.
Grealish, of Carnmore, was the captain of the golf society, while Cassidy, of Castlepollard, County 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.
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 ”.