Supreme Court Judge Mr Justice Seamus Woolf gives evidence at the trial of four people over alleged violations of COVID-19 rules during an Orchatus Golf Society event on Friday.
Mr Justice Woolf, a former attorney general, was appointed to the Supreme Court in July 2020, but did not sit in court until last February following controversy over his appearance at the ‘Golfgate’ dinner on August 19, 2020.
Lawyers for two politicians and two hoteliers at the center of the case in Galway District Court on Thursday claimed they were being unfairly prosecuted.
Independent TD Noel Grealish, former Fianna Fell Senator Donnie Cassidy, and hoteliers John and James Sweeney appear before Galway District Court over an event at the Station House Hotel in Clifden.
The men’s legal representatives said their clients had followed the rules at all times during the two-day outing.
Prosecutor Eoghan Cole Beale said it was a state case that an indoor event was held and attended by more than 50 people on the date in question.
He said that the four respondents organized the event and did not take all reasonable steps to ensure that an indoor gathering did not exceed the number of people present at that time.
Mr Cole said the law then provided that an event organizer was “a person engaged in the publication, arrangement, organizing or management of an event”. He said that it is a matter of the state that all the four accused had organized the event.
‘Not a law breaker’
Colum Smith SC, Square, CastlePollard, for Mr Cassidy of Westmeath, said his client was “a law-maker and not a law-breaker” and that the guidelines issued to hotels at the time were enforced.
“Everyone jumped on the bandwagon that these people ignored the rules saying the rules don’t apply to them. It was definitely not the case,” he said.
“And the press assumed that the decision the government had taken the night before had meaning for this event, but it didn’t happen – not until 10 days later,” he said in August 2020 to further restrict indoor gathering numbers. With reference to the decision of the government added.
Mr Smith said 80 people invited to the dinner were accommodated in two rooms. Referring to a copy of the guidelines submitted to the court, he said it allowed multiple gatherings, provided the protocol is followed.
He said the ceremony was organized in honor of the late Mark Killilia, a founding member or society, and was not “trivial”. He accused the media of creating frenzy and said that “many good people” had to resign from their posts due to the uproar over the event.
He said Mr Cassidy took all precautions by checking out the rules and guidelines and engaging with people at the Irish Hotel Federation and the Department of Tourism.
“My client was informed that there would be 45 people in one room and 81 in another room and that was the situation during the night,” he said.
Mr Cole said Mr Cassidy and Mr Grealish had invited 80 guests to an event and they were served a dinner by the same hotel staff, which was effectively one room.
“During the event the division was changed to listen to the speeches of the people and there was no rigid separation. It was one event and not many gatherings,” he said.
Michael McDowell SC for Mr Grealish of Carnmore, KO Galway said the society outing was a two-day event. He said that his client, as captain, was responsible for the first day, which did not include dinner.
He said the second day included the President’s dinner and that his clients were not involved in organizing, arranging or promoting it. He said Mr Grealish stood in as captain for the two-day outing at the behest of Mr Cassidy and that former Justice Pat McCartan was appointed captain for 2020 at the dinner.
Edward Walsh SC for hotel owner John Sweeney said the position of the guidelines needed to be clarified by the prosecution. He said his client was not the legal owner of the hotel’s license and did not organize or organize the event.
He said the government introduced guidelines to help the hotel sector and other businesses reopen, but now it seems they are falling apart. He said that the program was organized as per the guidelines issued by the government at that time.
Constance Cassidy SC for the hotel’s general manager James Sweeney said that her client and her father were directors of the company Western Railway Operations Ltd and were separate individuals of the company. She expressed disappointment that her client was being prosecuted instead of the company.