Oireachtas Golf Society dinner guests did not wear masks, court said

One of the hotel staff who worked on the event at the heart of the ‘Golfgate’ trial in Galway said none of the guests were wearing masks when they arrived for the function that evening.

The waitress, Sarah Griffiths, told Galway District Court that around 80 people attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner, the organization of which ultimately led to the ongoing case.

TD independent Noel Grealish and former Fianna Senator Fáil Donie Cassidy, as well as hoteliers John Sweeney and James Sweeney, each deny hosting the event in violation of pandemic restrictions at the Station House Hotel in Clifden on August 19, 2020.

Guests started arriving at the hotel around 7 p.m. and started entering the reception hall around 7:30 p.m., Griffiths recalled.

“Some were sitting (at their table) and others were standing, talking.

“All the staff wore masks or visors but none of the guests wore them. Some of the guests went to the bar to order their own drinks, but most sat down and had drinks served at their tables, ”she said.

She, her brother Ethan and another waitress, Ellen Conway, who both also testified, moved around the tables to serve canapes to guests before the meal.

In response to Mr Eoghan Cole BL, in charge of prosecutions, she stated that the room was divided by a partition into the Omey suite on one side and the Kylemore suite on the other.

“Gap in the middle”

“There was a space in the middle of the room which was a wide doorway for access to the bar and kitchen for the staff,” she said.

Mr. Cole asked him to describe the layout of the table.

She remembers that dinner started at 9:30 p.m. and there were five tables in the front section and four tables in the second section with between six and ten people at each table.

She agreed with the Edward Walsh SC for the Sweeneys that she and other staff had undergone rigorous training regarding the Covid guidelines and that the Sweeneys had a “hands-on and meticulous” approach to doing whatever it takes to get themselves. comply with the safety of all in their Hotel.

Garda Inspector Peter Conlon of the Protective Services Unit in Galway testified that he was Acting Superintendent for the District of Salthill / Clifden when he learned of an event on August 21, 2020 at the Clifden Hotel on August 19, which may have violated relevant Covid-19 regulations in effect at the time.

He said he learned that Sergeant Patricia Grady and Garda John Donoghue spoke to the Sweeneys about the Oireachtas Golf Society event.

He explained that he was responsible for overseeing Garda’s investigation since he was acting superintendent at the time.

He confirmed that he became aware of the event by reading statements from his colleagues following their interaction with the Sweeneys.

John and James Sweeney, he said, provided all the information to Sgt Grady when asked about the event; who organized it, who attended, their location and what happened.

He said he had corresponded with the Sweeney’s, seeking additional information and was told that on legal advice, the information he was seeking would not be provided, as they were under no obligation to provide it.

Insp. Conlon said he also corresponded with Donie Cassidy and MP Noel Grealish and received correspondence from one of them.

He said he wrote to Mr Cassidy on September 19, 2020 regarding the alleged rule violations, informing him that it had been widely reported in the media that he was involved in the organization of the event and that if the directives were not followed at the time, he could be prosecuted.

He asked who had booked the hotel, where the booking was made and what hotel staff were involved.

Inspector Conlon also asked in the letter whether Mr. Cassidy had provided all the names and contact details of attendees at the hotel, and whether customers paid for drinks at the bar or were served at the table.

“What measures have you put in place to comply with the health law as the organizer of this event?” He asked Mr. Cassidy.

Receipts and invoices

He also requested receipts and invoices relating to the event and a list of those who spoke at the event.

The Inspector also looked for evidence of Mr. Cassidy’s correspondence with the Irish Hotels Federation regarding regulations and guidelines for the hospitality industry that were in effect at the time.

Mr. Cassidy responded to the inspector’s letter on October 15, 2020, stating that the Company hosted the two-day event, where only one dinner was held that year. He said the event had also been moved from the Ballyconneely clubhouse to the hotel to ensure full compliance with Covid regulations.

The hotel assured him that the event would be fully compliant and he contacted the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) to ensure the event could take place.

He told the inspector that he and Mr. Grealish had visited the hotel the week before the occurrence and were satisfied that the reception hall was adequately divided in two to meet the 50 person rule.

He said he arrived at the hotel on Monday and contacted the IHF again on Wednesday morning to seek their advice again, after hearing new guidelines were being announced, and was told that the changes would not affect the function that evening as they weren’t in effect until a few days later.

However, the IHF, he said, told him on Thursday and Friday that it was still seeking clarification on the new guidelines, which would restrict indoor dining to just six in each group of people.

The IHF also told him, he said, that Fáilte Ireland was in the process of updating the guidelines which would be in place the following week.

The new rules were not in effect at the time of the golf event, he said in his letter to the inspector.

“No role”

Mr Cole said Mr Cassidy subsequently received correspondence from the IHF on August 23 in the form of a press release regarding the dinner which had taken place two nights previously. He said: “The IHF is providing general advice and has not played any role in authorizing this event…”

At this point, Mr. Cole noted that the time was approaching 4 p.m. and suggested that the trial be adjourned until it resumes in February.

Mr. Michael McDowell SC rose and requested that the statement of his client, Mr. Grealish at the Gardaí, be read into evidence before the end of this part of the hearing.

Judge Fahy agreed to allow it and Mr. Cole read the document into evidence.

He said that in July 2020, Mr. Grealish was the outgoing captain of the Oireachtas Golf Society. On July 3, he said he traveled with Mr. Cassidy to the Ballyconneely Golf Club, as his captain’s exit was scheduled to take place there on August 18.

He said golf club president Donie Cassidy was also in attendance.

They then both proceeded to the Station House Hotel where Mr. Cassidy had planned to host the President’s Dinner on Wednesday August 19, to celebrate the Society’s 50th anniversary and honor the late Mark Killilea.

“I understood and was assured at all times by Donie Cassidy and the hotel that the dinner planned for President’s Day would take place fully in compliance with all the rules and regulations of Covid-19.

“My outing for the captain’s party was on August 18 and there was no captain’s dinner that night,” the statement said from Mr. Grealish.

“I raised a concern to Donie Cassidy on Wednesday morning over breakfast at the hotel, regarding proposed new guidelines which were reported to have been agreed to in Cabinet the day before – August 18th. .

“Donie Cassidy said he would call the IHF President and ask for his advice. Donie left the restaurant to make this call. He came back after ten minutes and informed me that the existing guidelines were still in place. and would be in effect until new guidelines are promulgated by the Minister.

“He said the information would also be passed on to the hotel.

“As Donie Cassidy is a very experienced hotelier who owns and operates four hotels himself, I haven’t delved into it.

“I am not aware of any breach of the regulations then in force occurring on August 18 and 19 in connection with the President’s dinner.

I had no responsibility for the dinner arrangements and had no relationship with the hotel management regarding this event.

“I think if there had been any correspondence when booking for the President’s Dinner, it would have happened between Donie Cassidy and the hotel,” Mr. Grealish’s statement concluded.

Judge Fahy then adjourned the case until February 3. She informed the lawyer that she had set aside February 3-4 to conclude the hearing.

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