Golfgate one year on: Bogie men, teed-off legal eagles and a few albatrosses around necks…
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23rd August 2021
© Provided by Extra.ie
One year on from Golfgate what have we learnt? Oh wait… we’re still in the middle of Zapgate.
The Government would, just one year ago, have agreed with the theory that golf is a good walk spoilt.
A three-star hotel in Clifden, Co. Galway, was the most unlikely location for a scandal that would reverberate around the world.© Provided by Extra.ie In the rough: Phil Hogan, left, fell but Séamus Woulfe survived. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The somewhat sleepy goings-on of the Oireachtas Golf Society were an equally unlikely stage for a national controversy. However, in the middle of a grand coronavirus panic, it would be the template for a scandal which almost brought down our then toddler of a Government.
In a signal of how badly we had messed up, the debacle was covered not just domestically, but also internationally, with the high-flyers’ fiasco featuring in The New York Times, The Guardian (of course), the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Ouest France and on the BBC.
There had not been so much coverage of a domestic policy issue since the infamous Brian Cowen-era Fianna Fáil think-in in another quiet Galway hotel that scandalised the world.© Provided by Extra.ie Dara Calleary left his ministerial role after attending the golf event in Galway. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
So, one year on from Golfgate, how have the main characters fared and what have we learnt?
Fall of the uncrowned king© Provided by Extra.ie Phil Hogan was moving towards being the uncrowned king of Europe. Pic: Collins Courts
Fine Gael’s cutest and most cunning saw his career collapse dramatically – and in a remarkably similar fashion to how he lost his first junior ministerial job.
The man who was moving towards being the uncrowned king of Europe found himself experiencing an extraordinary pandemic dethronement.
He is no doubt still asking what happened. So, in truth, are we. But at least he’s found a new gig in political consulting.
The lost minister© Provided by Extra.ie Dara Calleary didn’t even play golf. Pic: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
The west was in a fury when Dara wasn’t made a full minister and then delighted after Barry Cowen’s big accident. And then they were in a fury again. Ironically, in one of the many quirks of this comical caper, Calleary didn’t even play golf. That still didn’t save him from the political bunker.
A sympathy vote means that should Micheál Martin survive long enough to engage in a reshuffle, Dara will be first on the list of promotions.
The accidental tourist© Provided by Extra.ie RTÉ informed O’Rourke that all future plans with the broadcaster were on hold. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos
The sins of the RTÉ doyen of public morality for two decades were minor, but this failed to save him.
RTÉ management, with the loyalty for which they are famed, primly informed O’Rourke that all future plans with the broadcaster were on hold and there are scant signs of a signal coming that he will be back soon.
Some will, of course, argue there are worse fates than not being invited on to the RTÉ version of Strictly Come Dancing.
A sheep devoured by a Woulfe© Provided by Extra.ie The authority of the previously well-regarded Frank Clarke, left, has not really recovered since then. Pic: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
The Chief Justice went to Séamus Woulfe and said he wanted his head. He came back with a judicial flea in his ear and an empty platter.
The authority of the previously well-regarded Clarke has not really recovered since then.
Six senators – three from Fianna Fáil and three from Fine Gael – lost their respective party whips for almost five months due to their attendance.
For the record, given that few have ever heard of them, the six are Jerry Buttimer, Paddy Burke, and John Cummins for Fine Gael, along with the Fianna Fáil casualties: Niall Blaney, Paul Daly and
Aidan Davitt. The actual absence of any public profile of the senators may have been beneficial – for seeing as few had ever heard of them, it was difficult for the public to be in a state of fury when they regained the whip.
The Oireachtas Golf Society
The new ban
In the immediate wake of the scandal, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, not a figure to minimise a crisis, called on the Oireachtas Golf Society of the to be disbanded with immediate effect. We are lucky, one member muttered, ‘that we didn’t end up in the Special Criminal Court’.
The new boss© Provided by Extra.ie The still uncertain authority of Micheál Martin, was bolstered by the events. Pic: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
The still uncertain authority of Micheál Martin, was bolstered by the events. Went for two heads and secured two heads though the worth or utility of Phil was questionable.
For Martin though, the sequence of events proved to a still fractious party that he was still the boss… for one week at least.
All Hail The Invisible Man: Charlie McConalogue
© Provided by Extra.ie Charlie McConalogue slid into the job of Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Pic: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
For the quiet man with the unpronounceable name, it’s a case of third time is a charm as after the reigns of Barry Cowen (17 days) and Dara Calleary (37 days), he slid into the job of Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine without anyone noticing.
It’s stayed that way since, which truly is the way Micheál likes it.
Woulfe Kept From The Door: Séamus Woulfe
© Provided by Extra.ie Séamus Woulfe is now working away in the Supreme Court as though nothing ever happened. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A winner, sort of, in that on being offered the opportunity of losing fourand-a-half million euro by stepping down, Judge Woulfe played the sort of strategic game that would have impressed his namesake Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction. Séamus is now working away in the Supreme Court as though nothing ever happened.
The Great Escape 1: Enda Kenny
© Provided by Extra.ie Enda Kenny declined to participate in the gala dinner after the golf competitions. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Enda had participated in the golf competitions arranged as part of the event, but declined to participate in the gala dinner, telling others that he thought it was ‘a bad idea’ and would ‘send out the wrong signal to the general public’. There is a reason he became taoiseach.
The Great Escape 2: Dick Spring
The former tánaiste also confined himself to a round of golf before disappearing. Rather like Enda, a career as leader of the old Labour Party seems to have given Dick an elevated capacity to sense danger. It’s an ability that generation.
The Designated Scapegoats
Two of the dramatis personae are facing an uncertain future.
When the event was organised by the golf society’s captain, Independent TD Noel Grealish and former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy, as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the hapless society, neither could have suspected they would subsequently be prosecuted for their roles in organising the event. Rather like Leo Varadkar with Zapgate, both have strongly insisted that they consulted widely to ensure the event complied with COVID guidelines. Despite these efforts they face a single charge of organising or causing to organise an event in the Health Act 1947, which was amended to limit the spread of COVID-19. At the time of the golf outing and dinner, the country was under Level 3 COVID-19 restrictions with indoor gatherings limited to 50 people. The penalties for such a breach are a fine of up to €2,500 and up to six months in prison.
Few enough apparently. Initially, news of the dinner prompted claims that it breached either the letter or spirit of the law and whipped up public anger at the attendees. Contrite politicians pledged lessons had been learnt and such an event would never occur again. Which of course brings us to Zapgate. What is it Marx says about history repeating itself? ‘The first time as tragedy, the second as farce.’ Leo Varadkar, left, would know all about that.