Dara Calleary with face maskImage copyright
Niall Carson/PA

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Dara Calleary replaced Barry Cowen as agriculture minister last month after his predecessor was sacked over controversy around a drink-driving ban

Irish Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary has resigned after attending a golf dinner with more than 80 people.

Wednesday’s Irish parliamentary golf society event at a County Galway hotel came a day after Dublin announced a tightening of lockdown restrictions.

Dara Calleary had been in post for a month; he replaced Barry Cowen who was sacked after a drink-driving scandal.

The Irish PM accepted the resignation, saying Mr Calleary’s behaviour “was wrong and an error of judgement”.

Gardaí (Irish police) are now investigating the event for possible breaches of Covid-19 regulations.

Others present at the event included the former Fine Gael minister and EU Commissioner, Phil Hogan, the Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe, Fine Gael senator Jerry Buttimer and the Independent TD (MP) Noel Grealish.

Mr Buttimer, also resigned as Leas-Chathaoirleach (deputy chairman of the Irish senate) on Friday morning and apologised unreservedly for attending the event, which he said was “an unintended but serious lapse of judgement”.

Police investigation launched

Mr Calleary apologised profusely in a series of tweets late on Thursday, saying that in light of the updated public health guidance, he should not have attended the event.

“I wish to apologise unreservedly to the public, from whom we are asking quite a lot at this difficult time.”

In a statement on Friday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “People all over the country have made very difficult, personal sacrifices in their family lives and in their businesses to comply with Covid regulations.

“This event should not have gone ahead in the manner it did, given the government decision of last Tuesday.”

Mr Hogan said on Twitter that he had attended the event “on the clear understanding that the organisers and the hotel concerned had been assured [by the Irish Hotels’ Federation] that the arrangements put in place would be in compliance with the government’s guidelines”.

He added: “Prior to the event, I had complied fully with the government’s quarantine requirements, having been in Ireland since late July.”

The EU Commission said Mr Hogan attended the event in good faith, believing arrangements were Covid compliant.

Mr Justice Woulfe, a former attorney general in the Republic of Ireland, said he attended one day of the Oireachtas Golf Society outing as a guest, but that he was “not aware in advance that there was going to be an organised dinner as part of the event”.

He said he had attended based on the understanding that the event would be within the public health guidelines, and would “never disregard governmental or health authorities advice regarding public health”.

“That I ended up in a situation where breaches may have occurred, is of great regret to me, and for which I am sorry.

“I unreservedly apologise.”

Mr Grealish, who is captain of the golf society, has also apologised.

He told Galway Bay FM he sat at a table with six people and maintained social distancing.

He claimed he was assured the event met new public health guidelines, but now realised his error of judgement.

One rule for them?

Analysis: Shane Harrison, BBC News NI Dublin correspondent

Dara Calleary has now joined Michelle O’Neill and Dominic Cummings as a senior person in political life in the UK and Ireland caught-up in a controversy over whether they broke their own Covid-19 rules.

Unlike Mr Calleary, the other two did not resign.

And so the new Taoiseach, Mícheál Martin, is now looking for his third agriculture minister in less than two months.

It has been a bad start for the new coalition government with not even the summer recess providing a break from political mishap.

Once again the issue – as was the case in Northern Ireland and England – was whether senior political figures broke their own administration’s rules, giving rise to the impression that there is one rule for ordinary people and another for the political elite.

But it’s not just the Fianna Fáil part of the coalition government that has been caught up in this affair.

With Jerry Buttimer’s resignation, pressure is now building on some associated with Fine Gael including the EU Commissioner Phil Hogan and Séamus Woulfe, a supreme court judge and former attorney general in a Fine Gael-led government.

Dara Calleary is not to be the only casualty of the Irish parliamentary golf dinner.

The 81 people at the County Galway event were split across two rooms.

In tightening Irish lockdown restrictions on Tuesday, the number of people allowed to attend indoor gatherings was reduced from 50 to six, with some exceptions.

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Micheál Martin will now have to appoint his third Agriculture minister since the end of June, when his coalition government was elected

Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane said politicians who breached regulations at the event “should resign”, especially if they are involved in setting the guidance.

He told Irish broadcaster RTÉ the golf event was a breach of the rules.

Mr Cullinane’s party colleagues in Northern Ireland have previously faced criticism for alleged breaches of regulations set by the Executive.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and other senior Sinn Féin figures maintain they acted within guidance in attending the funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey in Belfast in June.

Separate rooms

James Sweeney, from the Station House Hotel where the event was held, told RTÉ he had checked with the Irish Hotels Federation to ensure the event was compliant.

He said he was told it would be, if the guests were in two separate rooms, with fewer than 50 people in each.

Micheál Martin will now have to appoint his third agriculture minister since the end of June when his coalition government was elected.

The Republic’s cabinet is due to meet later on Friday to discuss easing the local lockdowns in counties Laois, Offaly and Kildare.

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