The embattled European trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, is resigning his post after an outcry over his breaches of coronavirus rules during a golfing break in Ireland.
A spokesperson told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday evening that Hogan would step down, ending his attempts to ride out the controversy and keep his post as a key player in Brexit talks.
Earlier on Wednesday the Irish government signaled it wanted Hogan to quit or be sacked after concluding he flouted coronavirus regulations.
The taoiseach, Micheál Martin, said Hogan had undermined public confidence in public health guidelines.
The Green party leader, Eamon Ryan, also part of the ruling coalition, said the government had lost confidence in Hogan, saying he had breached quarantine and other rules and had delayed offering an explanation and apology.
Hogan’s fate rested in the hands of the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, who requested a full account of his movements in Ireland.
She was under pressure to sack Hogan, an Irish political veteran who moved to Brussels and became the EU’s key figure in Brexit talks, but doing so would have set an awkward precedent.
The Irish public has seethed at revelations about Hogan’s covid violations but some business groups fear Ireland will lose a key ally in Brexit talks. The head of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association compared ousting Hogan to “cutting off our Brexit nose to spite our Covid face”.
Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, has been tipped to replace Hogan as Ireland’s EU commissioner. Dublin hopes to retain the trade portfolio at a pivotal time for Brexit and US trade talks but that will be a decision for Von der Leyen.
Hogan attempted to defuse public anger and save his job in an RTE interview on Tuesday but ended up tacitly admitting he had violated quarantine rules.
He also published a timeline of his movements in Ireland from 31 July to 22 August and gave about 20 pages of documents with additional details to Von der Leyen.
The row erupted after it emerged Hogan joined more than 80 people, including politicians and a supreme court judge, at a golfing dinner in Clifden, County Galway, on 19 August.
The event breached Covid-19 regulations and prompted a public outrage. Several attendees resigned from their positions, including Dara Calleary, the government’s agriculture minister. Police are investigating the event.
Hogan apologised, saying the gathering was wrong and he should not have attended, but he initially refused to resign, insisting he respected regulations during the rest of his three-week visit to Ireland. Drip-drip disclosures, however, undermined that claim.
Hogan told RTE on Tuesday he had made big mistakes and was very embarrassed, but again insisted he had broken no rules.
He said he had arrived in Ireland on 31 July and travelled to his temporary residence in county Kildare before being admitted on 5 August to a Dublin hospital, where he tested negative for Covid-19 before being discharged on 7 August.
He returned to Kildare, which was in lockdown because of a surge in infections, and over the next two weeks visited counties Limerick, Roscommon, Kilkenny and Galway before returning to Brussels.
“I am satisfied arising from the test that I did that proved it was negative that I was no risk to anybody,” Hogan said.
Told by RTE’s interviewer, Tony Connolly, that as a traveller from Belgium, a high-risk country, rules state he should have remained in self-isolation even after a negative test, Hogan said: “Well, I don’t accept that.”
Source: The Guardian