EU trade commissioner under pressure to quit over Covid rules breach | World news

The Irish government wants the embattled European trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, to quit or be sacked after concluding he flouted coronavirus regulations during a golfing break in Ireland.

The Green party leader, Eamon Ryan, part of the ruling coalition, on Wednesday said the government had lost confidence in Hogan.

The commissioner breached quarantine and other rules and had delayed offering an explanation and apology, Ryan told RTE’s Morning Ireland. The health minister, Stephen Donnelly, told the same programme Hogan should “consider his position”.

The comments followed a joint statement on Tuesday night from the taoiseach, Micheál Martin, the deputy prime minister, Leo Varadkar, and Ryan that said Hogan breached public health guidelines.

“People are correctly angered by these actions given the sacrifices so many have made to adhere to public health guidance,” it said. “In addition, his delayed and hesitant release of information has undermined public confidence.”

The hardening mood in Dublin however came with acknowledgement that Hogan’s fate would be decided in Brussels by the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen.

Hogan attempted to douse the controversy and save his job in a media 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.

She is under pressure to sack Hogan, an Irish political veteran who moved to Brussels and is the EU’s key figure in Brexit talks, but doing so would set an awkward precedent.

The row erupted after it emerged Hogan joined more than 8o people, including politicians and a supreme court judge, at a golfing dinner in Clifden, ounty Galway, on 19 August.

The event breached Covid-19 regulations and prompted a public outcry that continues to swell. 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 has refused to resign, insisting he respected regulations during the rest of his three-week visit to Ireland. Drip-drip disclosures, however, have undermined that claim.

In Tuesday’s interview – his first since the affair broke – Hogan told RTE 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.”

The Department of Health later confirmed that a person must restrict their movements for 14 days if they travel from a country not on Ireland’s green list. Belgium is not on it.

Last week a commission spokesman claimed Hogan had completed his quarantine in Kilkenny. That unravelled when the police notified the government that a garda stopped and cautioned Hogan for using his mobile phone while driving in Kildare.

Hogan told RTE he was exempt from Kildare’s lockdown restrictions because of essential work negotiating tariff reductions with the US, and he had to collect handwritten notes at his residence.

Asked whether this was an effort to conceal a golfing holiday, Hogan said he was able to organise his outings to make sure he had time to work in the evenings.

Source: The Guardian

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