Former AG Seámus Woulfe describes ‘fuzzy knowledge’ of guidelines


Updated 2 hours ago

SUPREME COURT JUDGE Seámus Woulfe told the Golfgate trial that in his opinion there were “ambiguities” about what constituted a gathering under the rules of hospitality at the time of the Oireachtas’ August 2020 dinner. Golf Society.

Woulfe, who had served as an attorney general for the months leading up to the event, was present at the dinner and had played golf with the company on the day of the dinner.

Independent TD Noel Grealish (55), former Fianna Senator Fáil Donie Cassidy (76), John Sweeney (61), owner of the Station House Hotel in Clifden, and his son James (32), manager General of the hotel are facing charges in connection with the dinner held at the Station House Hotel in Connemara City on August 19, 2020.

The state alleges that the four men were the organizers of the event and that the event violated a criminal provision of a regulation made under section 31A (1) of the 1947 Health Act such as modified, to prevent, limit, minimize or slow the spread of Covid. -19.

The state argued that the men “had not taken all reasonable steps” to ensure that the number of people present at the event did not exceed 50 people.

The offense, which the men deny, is punishable by a fine of up to € 2,500 and / or six months in prison.

Lawyers for a number of defendants argued that they were following Fáilte Ireland’s guidelines that had been agreed between the government and the representative body.

Woulfe was appointed a Supreme Court justice in July 2020, but prior to that he had served as attorney general from June 2017 to June 2020.

He told Galway District Court today that he first attended an event hosted by the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in 2019 because he was told it was a good opportunity to politicians to mix in a relaxed manner.

He told the court that he first spoke about the August 2020 social event by Paul Coghlan by means of a “friendly verbal invitation” and that Grealish then told him in May or June 2020 that he would continue.

He said that after being appointed a Supreme Court judge, he questioned whether it was still appropriate for him to attend.

“There had been complications, I had now become a judge, it was one thing, so was he still okay with coming to dinner?…. But when I was satisfied, after having had a word with the judge in chief, it seemed like it seemed normal to go there as a judge of the social and recreational event.

Guidelines

Woulfe told the court that when he attended the event he knew there were “detailed guidelines” supporting “what we call the strict numbers rule.”

During his testimony, Woulfe read a file he said contained details of Covid-19 regulatory instruments and associated guidelines.

He told that tribunal that at the time of the occurrence, he believed there were guidelines in place to detail how the 50-person rule worked.

“I knew from my time as Attorney General that there was a pile of guidelines fleshing out the regulation because there were ambiguities in the regulation as it was almost impossible to draft them comprehensively, given the constraints of time and all, “he said.

Woulfe said the ambiguity applied to all hotels and restaurants and that while he was not sure this was something he considered on dinner day, it was something he was conscious “on the way”.

“So was it a gathering of 50 people in one room in a hotel or was it 50 people on the premises, sorry 50 people in the building, or if a hotel had two buildings was it 50 people overall? of the hotel premises, “he said.

Speaking about his experience drafting the Covid-19 regulations during his tenure as attorney general, Woulfe said the guidelines “weren’t made in the attorney general’s office, the regulations were.”

Woulfe said the guidelines were drafted by officials as well as Fáilte Ireland, but were “approved by the government”.

“As far as they were approved by the government, the attorney general’s office was not involved. So even if I would have had a vague and broad knowledge in general terms of the nature of the guidelines, I would not have seen it until after, ”he said.

Speaking to Judge Mary Fahy, he said it was “important” that the guidelines be published with the Irish government logo.

“You probably went through all of this yesterday, Judge, it is significant that the Irish government harp is in the headlines,” he said.

Woulfe said it was a “conscious policy” for the guidelines to “take a more liberal view” and allow “multiple gatherings at site facilities.”

Partition

The court heard various details about a partition that was in place to separate groups of diners, with lawyers for the defendants saying the partition was “soundproof” and “clearly defined two areas.”

Asked about the nature of the partition today, Woulfe described it as a “retractable wall” but that he was sitting there back to back.

He said it was a “white wall” and he hadn’t focused on it and had very little recollection of it.

“When you’re the Attorney General, I’m afraid you might be invited to a lot of dinners. So in those three years I would have attended a lot of dinners and receptions at the hotel and you become quite oblivious to the environment around you, ”he said.

Asked by Constance Cassidy SC, counsel to James Sweeney, if he had seen anything on the evening of the event that would have concerned him “in relation to the Covid”, Woulfe replied “no”.

Today’s debates also heard testimony from Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer, former Labor Senator Lorraine Higgins and a number of hotel and bar workers who were employed in the evenings. of the event.

Buttimer told the court he was “very impressed” with Covid’s compliance at the hotel during the event, saying the staff “went above and beyond” what could be expected.

He said he “knew there was another room” during dinner but “didn’t know how many tables”.

Higgins told the court that sitting in one room, she had “no reason to believe there was another room.”

Michael McDowell SC, for Grealish, previously told the court that his client claims he did not host the president’s dinner at the center because he was the captain of the Oireachtas Golf Society.

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McDowell asked Higgins, a former company captain, if that role was “primarily as a golfer,” to which she replied, “It was definitely my experience.”

“Drink, chat, sing”

Anthony Curran, a bartender who worked at the hotel on the evening of the event, told the court that most patrons left after dinner but “about 30” remained in the residents’ bar “to drink, discuss, sing ”. .

Curran said he worked at a public bar separate from the hotel before moving to the reception hall to collect drinks and then to the residents’ bar where he served customers.

The witness testified that he and another bartender were told to stop serving at around 2:30 a.m.

“After cleaning the glasses I would do this for about half an hour or 45 minutes and then I found myself in the residents’ bar as they started to enter, to help a colleague it was about 2:30 a.m. they told us to stop serving, ”he said.

Asked by Eoghan Cole BL for the State about the layout of the reception hall, Curran said there was a partition in the room which he said was “largely still in place” when he arrived. He said the bulkhead had an open section “for staff to walk through”.

Gardaí

This afternoon, the court heard testimony from Inspector Peter Conlon, who was responsible for overseeing the Garda’s investigation into the event.

La garda told the court he first learned on August 21, 2020 that the event had taken place two days before.

He said two guards attended the hotel on August 21 and spoke with John and James Sweeney. He said the two hoteliers: “provided information to the two sergeants regarding this event and the organization of this event and the number of participants and the location where the event took place.”

Conlon also confirmed the correspondence he had with Noel Grealish and Donie Cassidy after the Garda wrote to them separately on September 16 inviting them for an interview.

In the letter from the garda, Conlon told the two men that was his understanding and that it had been “widely reported in the media” that they were involved in organizing the event.

In a response from Cassidy which was also read out to court, the former senator in correspondence with the Garda, there had been “two entirely separate rooms” during the event and that he was “fully satisfied” that the guidelines of Covid be tracked by the hotel.

A response from Grealish was also read in court in which the sitting TD said he had “no contact with hotel management” regarding the hosting of the August 19 dinner.

Inspector Conlon’s testimony was not complete at the end of today’s proceedings and will resume when the trial returns to Judge Mary Fahy on February 3.


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