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'I should not have attended dinner with 80 others' - Calleary

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Dara Calleary attended event

Dara Calleary attended event

Dara Calleary attended event

Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary has apologised and said he should not have attended an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner that breached the Government's public health guidelines.

Mr Calleary apologised "unreservedly" to the public and to his Government colleagues after admitting he was one of a number of current and former TDs and Senators who attended a dinner at a hotel in Galway the night after new restrictions were announced by the Government.

Mr Calleary confirmed he attended the dinner organised by the Oireachtas Golf Society to mark its 50th anniversary in the Station House Hotel, Clifden, Co Galway.

Prizes

The dinner followed a two-day golf tournament for the society captain's and president's prizes which took place at the nearby Connemara Golf Club.

A number of current and former Oireachtas members participated in the golf tournament.

The dinner had between 60 to 80 attendees split across a partitioned function room at the hotel.

The function was organised by the society's president, former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy, with the event honouring the late former Fianna Fáil MEP Mark Killilea.

Mr Calleary, who was a family friend of Mr Killilea, is understood to have told the organisers he would speak at the event as long as it was within public health guidance. A source said there were no more than six people at his table.

However, the official guidance on all mass gatherings signed off by the Cabinet, of which Mr Calleary is a member, on Tuesday is that no more than six people from no more than three households can attend indoor gatherings or events.

Only weddings are exempt from this guidance where up to 50 people can attend.

Mr Calleary said in a statement: "Last night I attended a function I committed to a number of weeks ago, having been asked to pay tribute to a person I respected and admired greatly.

"In light of the updated public health guidance this week I 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.

"I also offer this apology and my sincere regret to my Government colleagues."

A spokesperson for Mr Calleary originally said: "The minister was asked to attend the dinner and speak in tribute to a deceased long-serving former Oireachtas member.

"He did attend and spoke briefly. He left following the dinner and observed social distance throughout the event."

Former Fine Gael Senator Cáit Keane, who was listed as having attended, declined to comment, referring all questions to Mr Cassidy.

She confirmed she had played golf in Connemara, but added: "I have absolutely no comment to make on it at all."

Former Fine Gael senator Paul Coghlan confirmed he also attended the event, but insisted: "We were all socially distanced."

Other confirmed attendees included Fine Gael Senator John Cummins.

It came as Taoiseach Micheál Martin hit out at claims the Government was issuing "mixed messages" over Covid-19 controls and insisted the focus was on saving lives and protecting livelihoods.

Mr Martin also insisted schools will reopen as planned because to delay doing so risked causing "damage" to children and families.

He confirmed schools will also reopen as planned in Kildare, Laois and Offaly as he said the special measures in those three counties had worked and were now reducing rates of community spread of the virus.

His comments came as the Government was slated over confusion around the numbers now allowed at indoor events.

Clarified

A special statement was issued after Health Minister Stephen Donnelly's remarks on the measures.

"That has been clarified - and I want to make an overall point about that," Mr Martin said.

"There is no confusion about the fundamental issue here - I would advise everybody to examine (the comments by) Ronan Glynn, the chief medical officer.

"The overall message is very clear - we are asking people to reduce contacts in terms of different households, reduce the number of social contacts for adults."