Golf dinner guests ‘assured by organizers that event was COVID compliant’

Guests who attended a controversial Golf Society dinner told a court that the organizers had assured them that the event complied with COVID laws.

He tested two politicians and two hoteliers, who face charges of violating coronavirus rules, were also told that no one at the event expressed any concern that the gathering broke the rules for indoor gatherings .

Galway East Independent TD Noel Grealish, 55, former Fianna Fell senator Donnie Cassidy, 75, John Sweeney, 60, and his son James Sweeney, 32, who owns the Station House Hotel, accused of illegally holding an Orchatas Golf Society event Is charged. ,

All four faced the same allegation that, on 19 August 2020, they organized an event that violated the Health Act 1947, as amended, to prevent, limit, reduce the spread of COVID-19. or to slow down.

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John Sweeney, 60, (front) and James Sweeney, 32, leave Galway District Court (Andrew Downs/PA)

The alleged crime relates to a dinner that took place at the Station House Hotel, Clifden, County Galway, which was attended by 81 people.

The trial is taking place in the Galway District Court and is likely to last for several days.

John Flaherty, former captain of the guard at Leinster House, who attended the event, was among those who gave evidence.

He said that before the event, he spoke to the organizers who assured him that it was in “consultation” with the Falte Ireland guidelines, he said.

“I called and talked to the hotel,” said Mr. Flaherty.

“I called not only several weeks ago but also about two to three days ago.

“He assured me that all precautions would be taken.”

Mr 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 broadcaster Sean O’Rourke.

Mr Flaherty said there was no movement of people in the room and that the guests were “kept on the tables” that were assigned to them.

He told that the food was over at around 11 pm.

He told the court that he believed that the guidelines were being followed at all times.

“I wouldn’t participate if I knew it broke the rules,” he said.

I was personally satisfied that it was being operated as per the guidelines. i felt safeJohn Flaherty

“I was personally satisfied that it was being conducted as per the guidelines. I felt safe.”

Rod McAuliffe, who was Mr Flaherty’s guest, said: “The (staff) were overwhelming wearing masks and there was no bar service.

“Everything was table service.

“I was asked to wear a mask and the staff wore masks.”

Mr McAuliffe said there was a partition between the two rooms but he could not see or hear anyone in the other room.

He said it was partly opened to several speeches by Mr Cassidy, Mr Grealish and Phil Hogan.

He said that no one expressed any concern about whether the incident violated the guidelines or rules of COVID.

“Everything about Covid was so dire,” he said.

“Mr. Sweeney was overseeing the dinner and it was impeccable management and done very satisfactorily.”

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Former European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan resigned over the matter (PA)

Kat Hayes, a member of the Orchatas Golf Society, said she checked the room before the show started because she was there with a friend who was “medically compromised”.

“It looked absolutely fine and I was very happy with it,” she said.

Ms Hayes said she was seated at a table with seven others, including Brian Hayes, the boss of the Banking and Payments Union of Ireland.

He told the court that there was no rapprochement between the tables.

Fianna Fell Senator Aidan DeWitt said he felt the program was “run in an extremely professional manner”.

“They were on top of their game at the hotel. They had politicians and a commissioner involved, and they wanted to put their best foot forward,” Mr DeWitt said.

“There was no mixing of tables and it was taken extremely seriously.”

Pause Connolly, a councilor on Monaghan County Council and a member of the Orchatas Golf Society, said the room was “extraordinarily well laid out.”

“They were two separate entrances. If you wanted to go to the bathroom there was a different place,” he said.

“I was very confident. I stopped to give the prizes and there was a PA system, and it was telling you what was happening in the other room.

“You couldn’t see what was happening. The only thing they were missing was a screen.”

Earlier, the court was told “hysteria was whipped” after the incident.

A barrister for one of the defendants told the Galway District Court that “everyone jumped on the bandwagon” to suggest that the accused ignored COVID regulations because they “occupied a special position in society”. .

There was a legal argument about the interpretation of guidelines for indoor gatherings, particularly those published by Falte Ireland.

Colm Smith, senior attorney representing Cassidy, said his client was a “law-breaker, not a law-breaker.”

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Station House Hotel in Clifden, County Galway, where the Orchatas Golf Society event was held (PA)

Mr Smith told the court: “These were emergency guidelines to get the hotel sector out of lockdown.

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

“It is an official department on which this sector depends.

“Those 81 people were accommodated in two different rooms. It was a phenomenon that did not inspire a momentous event. It was no rush. Worked on this two years ago.

“The impression has been made on the public that these people of social standing, were former Members of Parliament. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon to suggest that these people were ignoring (the rules) and that because they occupied a special position in our society, that the rules did not apply to them.

“It all started when the government held an emergency meeting regarding imposing further restrictions. The press had assumed that the decision the government had taken the night before had legal implications and meaning for the incident.

“It didn’t happen because the rules were not introduced for a long time and the laws were not made after 10 days.

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John Sweeney, 60, right, and James Sweeney, 32, coming to court (Andrew Downs/PA)

“The press got involved, as they are entitled to, but public sentiment was killed and the hysteria about it was killed and a lot of good people had to resign.”

Mr Smyth asked Judge Mary Fahy to decide on the status of the Felt Ireland guidelines.

Grealish of Carnemore was the captain of the Golf Society, while Cassidy of Castlepollard, County Westmeath was its president.

Public reaction to the incident led to the resignation of then Agriculture Minister Dara Caleri, while several other Fianna Fail and Fine Gael senators lost party whips.

European Commissioner Phil Hogan also resigned over the matter.

Supreme Court Judge Seamus Woolf, now a Supreme Court Justice, who also attended the event, came under pressure to resign from his position.

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Donnie Cassidy, 75, arrives in court for trial (Andrew Downs/PA)

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

“He had no part in arranging the president’s dinner,” McDowell said.

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

“The other day was President’s Day and the President’s Dinner.

“The court will be satisfied that, on all evidence, it did not settle it within the definition. It was not held by them, they did not publicize it, arrange it, or manage it.”