Golfgate trial hears no Covid-19 guidelines were broken with hysteria being ‘whipped up’

The trial of two politicians and two hoteliers over their alleged breach of Covid restrictions in organising a golf society dinner has heard that several witnesses due to give evidence for the prosecution have “bouts of ill health”.

As reported in the Irish Examiner, Senior Counsel Eddie Walsh, appearing for hotelier John Sweeney, told Galway district court that it is unclear whether these witnesses had a definitive PCR test or “simply appear unwell and don’t wish to be here”.

Some 51 potential witnesses are set to be called in a trial that is expected to last at least two days.

John Sweeney (60) and his son James Sweeney (32), along with Galway East Independent TD Noel Grealish (55) and former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy (75) are all on trial for contravention of health regulations associated with the pandemic.

The event, which took place at the Station House Hotel in Clifden, happened in August 2020. It was part of an outing by the Oireachtas Golf Society.

The two politicians are charged with having organised, or caused to be organised, an event that contravened a penal provision of a regulation made under Section 31A (1) of the Health Act 1947 as amended, to prevent, limit, minimise, or slow the spread of Covid-19.

John Sweeney, the owner of the hotel, and his son James, the general manager, face the same offences.

On Thursday, the court heard that Surpreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe was among those to have provided witness statements.

Senior counsel Colm Smyth, representing Mr Cassidy, told the court his client was “a lawmaker not a lawbreaker”.  The court heard Mr Cassidy is a figure in the hotel industry, owning four hotels in Dublin alone.

Mr Smyth told Judge Mary Fahy that the Oireachtas golf society was an important body having been involved in making links with British parliamentarians before the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Smyth made the case that the guidelines brought in response to the pandemic regulations were not broken at the event. He told the court a “solid partition” was installed to ensure the numbers attending would be less than 50.

Some 81 people were present at the Oireachtas golf society event, including then minister for agriculture, Dara Calleary, former EU commissioner Phil Hogan and Mr Woulfe.

Former attorney general Michael McDowell, appearing for Mr Grealish, said is client was not involved in the organisation of the event.

The court heard Mr Grealish was the captain of the Oireachtas golf society, but the dinner was a president’s dinner. The society outing took place over two days with the first day, on which golf was played, being the captain’s day.

The offences are punishable by a fine of up to €2,500 and/or six months in prison.