Ireland’s EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan has resigned after claims he broke coronavirus lockdown rules by attending a controversial golf dinner.
News of his departure came after Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said the top official had “undermined the whole approach to public health in Ireland”.
He has already apologised for attending the event in the west of Ireland, but the government said it was clear he also breached self-isolation guidelines on a trip home from Brussels.
Speaking in Dublin on Wednesday, Mr Martin stopped short of calling for Mr Hogan to go, but said there had been a “significant difficulty for the government in terms of the changing narrative as this story has unfolded”.
Mr Hogan has denied breaching any of Ireland’s coronavirus rules, but has faced harsh criticism from politicians and the public alike during a week in which his version of events changed several times.
He flew to Ireland from Brussels on 31 July, and travelled to his temporary residence at the K Club golf club in Co Kildare. Belgium is not on Ireland’s “Green List”, so Mr Hogan was required to restrict his movements for 14 days.
But on 5 August he went to Dublin for a hospital appointment and received a COVID-19 test, which was negative.
Mr Hogan has since argued that this meant he no longer had to restrict his movements for the remainder of the fortnight period.
This had been disputed by the country’s Health Service Executive, and the government, which said he was still required to see out the isolation period.
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On 7 August, several Irish counties – including Kildare – were placed on local lockdown. Mr Hogan left hours before this came into effect and travelled to Kilkenny.
On 17 August, he travelled back to the K Club, ostensibly to pick up important documents – a reason that would exempt him from Kildare’s lockdown – before continuing on to the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) Golf Society event in Clifden, Co Galway.
While driving in Co Kildare, he was stopped by Gardai (Irish police) and received a caution for using his mobile phone.
More than 80 people attended the dinner in Clifden on 19 August – a day after the Irish government announced indoor gatherings should be restricted to six people or fewer.
The subsequent public outcry to what became known as “Golfgate” also led to the resignation of Ireland’s minister for agriculture Dara Calleary, the deputy chairman of the Senate Jerry Buttimer, and apologies from many others.
Sky News’ Ireland correspondent Stephen Murphy said Mr Hogan was widely known as “Big Phil” and was a “brash and wily political operator”.
“He is a huge political figure here in Ireland,” he said.
“He has been battling desperately to save his job over the last few days with a series of defiant statements, defending his movements around the country in the days leading up to this dinner. Nobody expected his resignation.”