Hysteria stormed golf dinner but didn’t break any covid rules, test told

The lawsuit by two politicians and two hoteliers over alleged Covid violations in holding the Golf Society dinner states that “hysteria was whipped” and no guidelines were broken.

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

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, have been convicted of a lawsuit related to the organization of the Orchatas Golf Society event. have to face.

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

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

Prosecutors allege that the four defendants fell within the legislative definition, which prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people.

The court heard that guidelines relating to gatherings at indoor events within the hospitality sector were published by Falte Ireland around the time of the incident.

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

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The Station House Hotel in Clifden, KO 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.

“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.”

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

He said Cassidy already had no faults.

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John Sweeney, 60, right, and James Sweeney, 32, arrive in court (Andrew Downs/PA)

Grealish of Carnmore was the captain of the Golf Society, while Cassidy, of Cassidy, Company 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.

Mr Justice Woolf insisted that his actions did not warrant him losing his job.

Mr Smyth cited a statement from Mr Woolf as one of his “important witnesses”.

“Former Attorney General Seamus Woolf was responsible for introducing several statutory instruments covering the COVID emergency,” Mr. Smith said.

“About 50 regulations were introduced under his supervision.

“Mr Woolf has a statement in which he said: ‘I knew from my time as Attorney General that the rules enshrined in statutory instruments, such as those holding social events, were often fleshed out in more fine detail between a particular area. , for example in the hospitality sector and government authorities, through an agreed protocol or guidelines’.

Mr Smith said Cassidy took “all reasonable steps”.

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

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

“He will say that he is a law maker and not a law breaker. I have made proper inquiries and checked the rules and guidelines.”

He said Cassidy had satisfied himself that he met the relevant guidelines.

Mr. Smith said of the incident: “There was a dividing wall dividing the two suites. In fact two suites were built. This is the condition that met the guidelines of the government-drawn protocol for the opening of the hotel area. Is.

He said that there is no case against his client.

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, arranged for it, or did not manage it.”

Senior counsel Eddie Walsh, appearing for hotelier John Sweeney, said the event was organized in accordance with the law.

He said the guidelines were introduced for businessmen to act and rely on them for their benefit.

He said: “Unfortunately I have to say, what (the prosecutor) is saying, possibly on the direction of the director of the DPP. It appears that now the director or perhaps the state has decided to disassociate and separate from him or her. An attempt has been made to set aside the guidelines from which the Government had aptly sought to be introduced.”

The trial is expected to take up to five days, in which more than 50 prosecution witnesses will be called.