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EU trade commissioner resigns for breaking coronavirus rules

EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan is to resign after attending a golf dinner with 80 people, resulting in intense scrutiny over whether he had broken coronavirus regulations. 

Phil Hogan had been expected to play a key role in negotiating the bloc’s arrangements with Britain after Brexit. 

He has been under pressure after attending an Irish parliamentary golf society dinner in the west of Ireland last Wednesday with 80 other people in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said in a statement today: ‘This evening I have tendered my resignation as EU Trade Commissioner to the President of the European Commission, Dr Ursula von der Leyen.

‘It was becoming increasingly clear that the controversy concerning my recent visit to Ireland was becoming a distraction from my work as an EU commissioner and would undermine my work in the key months ahead.’

He travelled around Ireland during his summer break from Brussels despite official rules stating he should have self-isolated for 14 days because of the rate of infection abroad.

He said: ‘I deeply regret that my trip to Ireland, the country that I have been so proud to represent as a public servant for most of my adult life, caused such concern, unease and upset.

‘I have always tried to comply with all relevant Covid-19 regulations in Ireland and had understood that I had met with all relevant public health guidelines, particularly following confirmation of a negative Covid-19 test.’

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, had sought an explanation from her commissioner amid disquiet from the highest levels of the Irish Government.

In a statement the Government said: ‘The Taoiseach (Micheal Martin), Tanaiste (Leo Varadkar) and Minister (Eamon) Ryan acknowledge the resignation of Mr Phil Hogan and while this must have been a difficult decision for him personally, we believe that it is the correct course of action given the circumstances of the past week.

‘We all have a responsibility to support and adhere to public health guidelines and regulations.’

Ms von der Leyen said she respected his decision.

‘I am very grateful to him for his tireless work as a trade commissioner since the start of this mandate and for his successful term as commissioner in charge of agriculture in the previous college.

‘He was a valuable and respected member of the college. I wish him all the best for the future.’

Hogan said he was ‘profoundly sorry’ for attending the golf dinner, which also led to the resignation of former agriculture minister Dara Calleary and Jerry Buttimer, deputy chairman of the Irish Seanad.

The high-profile figures were busted after their names appeared on a seating plan for a dinner during the event. 

Mr Calleary and Jerry Buttimer, deputy chairman of the Irish Seanad, announced their resignations on Friday. 

 Mr Hogan told followers on Twitter at the weekend: ‘I wish to apologise fully and unreservedly for attending the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner on Wednesday night last.

‘I want, in particular, to apologise to the wonderful healthcare workers who continue to put their lives on the line to combat Covid-19 and all people who have lost loved ones during this pandemic.

‘I acknowledge my actions have touched a nerve for the people of Ireland, something for which I am profoundly sorry.

‘I realise fully the unnecessary stress, risk and offence caused to the people of Ireland by my attendance at such an event, at such a difficult time for all, and I am extremely sorry for this. 

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said the apology ‘helps’.

He said he did not condone commissioner Hogan’s actions and such an event should not have taken place.

Mr Varadkar said: ‘The apology helps, it would have been better if it had come sooner but it definitely helps, helps to account for himself and explain his own actions.’

Mr Hogan spent 25 years as member of Ireland’s Parliament, representing the Fine Gael party, of which Leo Varadkar is now the leader.

In 2014 he left Irish politics and was appointed as the European Union’s commissioner for agriculture and rural development. Last year he was appointed as the EU’s commissioner for trade. 

Public figures who attended the event, with more than 80 people across two rooms present, committed a ‘monumental’ error of judgment, the Taoiseach has said.

Mr Martin said his former agriculture minister, Dara Calleary, had done the right thing in resigning, amid a public backlash at the behaviour during the pandemic.

Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe was also in attendance.

Gardai are investigating whether the dinner at the Station House Hotel in Clifden, Co Galway, on Wednesday night had breached coronavirus regulations.

The Government said on Tuesday it would reduce the number of people allowed to gather in a bid to reduce the coronavirus rate of spread.

Tables in restaurants should not exceed six people, from no more than three households, and no more than 50 people should gather indoors.

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