Supreme Court justice Seamus Woulfe has told a criminal trial triggered by the ‘Golfgate’ incident that he had approval from the Chief Justice to attend the golf event.
The trial of two politicians and two hoteliers over alleged breaches of the Health Act at an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner held during Covid-19 restrictions in August 2020 is taking place at Galway District Court.
The accused include the alleged organisers; Independent TD of Carnmore, Galway 55-year-old Noel Grealish and former Westmeath Fianna Fáil Senator 75-year-old Donie Cassidy. The two accused face a single charge that on August 19th 2020, they organised an event that contravened the Health Act 1947, as amended to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The owner of the Station House Hotel in Clifden, 61-year-old John Sweeney and his son, 32-year-old James Sweeney, who is the hotel’s general manager, face the same charges. They all deny the charges.
After the controversy, Dara Calleary resigned from his position as Minister for Agriculture. Phil Hogan also resigned his position in the European Commission and leas-cathaoirleach of the Seanad Jerry Buttimer resigned also. Six senators also lost their party whip over the incident.
Supreme Court Justice Seamus Woulfe was the second to give evidence today in court, agreeing that the Oireachtas Golf Society event was purely social, recreational and non-political. “I was of the impression it was a good way of breaking down any kind of political rivalries,” he said.
Woulfe attended the same event in 2019 and was informed that the following year was the 50th anniversary, claiming it was a momentous occasion for the society. He said he was invited to the event in 2020, and after some consideration, decided to go.
Woulfe said he met Deputy Noel Grealish in May or June 2020 and was informed that the event would go ahead as planned. He said he was on holiday in Donegal at the time of the event, but decided to go giving the momentous nature of the event. “I probably did that because it was the 50th anniversary,” he said.
“Somebody told me it had been revived at the time of the arms trial in the 1970s and helped to diffuse tension between parties,” Woulfe said.
“I had booked my family holidays to Donegal, but when I satisfied myself to attend, I then had a word with the Chief Justice to see if it was ok to go to this event.”
Woulfe said that as far as he could remember, he was unaware that there was a formal dinner planned for the following night after he arrived. He said: “It’s very hard to remember every conversation you have. It is possible Paul Coghlan might have said there was going to be a dinner but not necessarily a group dinner.”
Asked if he had concerns about the dinner, Woulfe said he queried the dinner in his head. Woulfe said: “I suppose I just queried it in my own head. It was the first of those kind of dinners that I had been to since things opened up. I had been out socially a few times with smaller groups of friends.”
“I queried it with Paul, and he said Donie had consulted with the authorities, and everything was in order.” Woulfe said he was satisfied with this answer. “You’ve got to remember this was the Oireachtas Golf Society, with no disrespect to pubs – but the local pub might have a golf society.”
Woulfe then indicated that the presence of Donie Cassidy and John Flaherty reaffirmed his comfort in the event, saying: “I felt people like Donie Cassidy, who is a very reputable hotelier and businessman, and John Flaherty, the Captain of the Guard – I have high respect for John, I see the way he conducts himself and the way he organised security in Leinster House – once I was told by Paul Coghlan, they had applied their minds to the regulations and guidelines.”
“And then somebody said when they heard me querying Paul about it that it (the dinner) had been moved specially from the clubhouse to the hotel in order to ensure compliance with the guidelines.”
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