A Supreme Court judge, giving evidence in the trial of four people accused of violating COVID-19 rules, said he had “blurred, broad knowledge” of guidelines for reopening the hospitality sector.
Emus Woolf said the government had approved guidelines for the trial of two politicians and two hoteliers.
The former attorney general was appointed to the Supreme Court in July 2020, a month before the controversy over his appearance at the Golf Club dinner.
Galway East Independent TD Noel Grealish, 55; Former Fianna Fell Senator Donnie Cassidy, 75; And John Sweeney, 60, and his 32-year-old son James Sweeney, who own and run the Station House Hotel, are accused of illegally organizing the Orchatas Golf Society event.
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.
The alleged crime relates to a dinner that took place at the hotel in Clifden, County Galway and was attended by 81 people.
Prosecutor Eoghan Cole said it was a state case that the indoor event was organized and attended by more than 50 people, which was in violation of the then-Covid laws.
The four men denied the allegations, saying they followed the rules.
Mr Justice Woolf, who was Attorney General until the end of June 2020, said the government had followed the COVID regulations, with further guidelines following the rules agreed upon by sector representatives and government officials.
He told the Galway Court that he had a “clear recollection” of a “conscious” decision to implement a more liberal approach, which would allow “multi-gathering in a venue, not a single gathering of 50 people”.
However, he said he had not seen detailed guidelines on how a gathering of those 50 people could operate.
“I had never seen them, but I knew immediately from my time as attorney general that the rules were a pilot guideline to exit because there were ambiguities in the rules,” he told the court.
“They were almost impossible to draft in a comprehensive manner given the time pressure.
“I knew that along the way, when those rules were being made, there was ambiguity about what a gathering was.
“Was there a gathering of 50 people in one room, or was it 50 people in the complex, or 50 people in the building, or if there were two buildings in a hotel, was it 50 people in the hotel complex in total?”
I clearly remember there was a conscious policy to go for a more liberal approach that would allow multi-gathering, not a single gathering of 50 peopleseamus wolf
He continued: “When it came to reopening, my understanding was that hotels were saying they would not be able to reopen if there was a total of 50 on the whole complex.
“Given the urgency, it was not possible to remove all those ambiguities. What happened instead is that different sectors got involved in the drafting of these guidelines. They are there to aid in the reopening.
“The guidelines were in conjunction with lifting the restrictions.”
Mr Justice Woolf told the court it was “important” that the Irish Government’s harp was on the front page of the guidelines published by Felt Ireland.
He said these were government-approved guidelines to help the hospitality sector reopen.
“I clearly remember that there was a conscious policy to go for a more liberal approach that would allow multi-gathering, not a single gathering of 50 people.
“The guidelines allow multiple gatherings in the facilities of the venues.
“They are allowed only if the conditions have been met and they were to prevent the coexistence of a system in (with) separately defined spaces.
“It wasn’t an accident. It’s not like someone turned to these after a golf event and said there was a strange guideline, it was a deliberate policy to apply to all hotels across the state.
“The guidelines were made by civil servants. I would have had a vague, broad knowledge of the nature of the guidelines.”
Mr. Justice Woolf was invited by a friend to attend the event.
He said there were “some complications” before joining the program as he was recently appointed to the Supreme Court.
“When I satisfied myself after talking to the Chief Justice, it felt right to attend a social event as a judge,” he said.
He told the court that when he came to know about the dinner on the day of the event, he approached a friend about it.
“I wanted it in my head,” he said.
“It was the first of those types of dinners since things opened.
“I asked about it being a group dinner and I was told that the organizers had consulted with the authorities and everything was as per the guidelines.
“I would have known that whatever the strict number rule was, there were detailed guidelines to support it.
In that split second moment did I know it was 40, or 50, or 60? I’m not sure. ,
Mr Justice Woolf said there were about 40 people in the room where he was eating.
I was impressed by the hotel’s standards for COVID compliancejerry buttimer
He told the court that he sat with his back to the retractable wall, saying he was not aware of the people in the other room.
On the second day of trial, the court heard from Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer.
Mr Battimer, who resigned his post as Leis-Cathoireliches of the Seanad following the incident, said the hotel was “very COVID compliant”.
“I was impressed by the hotel’s standards for COVID compliance,” he said.
He said he was not aware of the other room and did not see anyone matching it in the area and that the guests had to use a different area to access the bathroom.
The Edward Walsh SC for hotel owner John Sweeney asked Buttimer if he was aware that the government was working with industry representatives to compile the guidance.
Mr Buttimer told the court that the presence of the Irish government logo led him to believe it was an official document.