Golfgate trial: Charges against all four defendants dismissed by judge
Posted on 3rd February 2022 at 21:41
A District Court judge dismissed charges on Thursday evening against four men accused of organising an Oireachtas Society Golf dinner in a Clifden hotel two years ago.
Independent TD Noel Grealish and former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy, along with hoteliers John Sweeney and James Sweeney, had each denied they organised the Oireachtas Golf Society event in breach of pandemic restrictions at the Station House Hotel in Clifden on August 19th, 2020.
Speaking at the end of a three-day trial at Galway District Court, Judge Mary Fahy there had been a huge body of evidence presented to the court which showed that while there had been one golf outing, there had been two distinct areas in the hotel which catered for two groups.
“The regulations provided for 50, but in two distinct areas. We have to admit the evidence was most impressive, from Judge Woulfe and Mr Buttimer in particular - he was most impressive.
“They were all responsible people who would not have gone to a dinner unless they felt comfortable and unless the organisers had not put in place all that was required to make it safe.
Court of opinion
“I’m satisfied the organisers did everything to comply - not in a court of public opinion - but in the court of law in my opinion.
“Unfortunately, very good people lost lost very good jobs and very good contracts and just to clarify, I didn’t make my decision based on that.
“I’m dismissing the charges against all four defendants,” Judge Fahy said.
In a brief comment as he left the courthouse Mr Grealish said he was “delighted with the outcome”.
An emotional Donie Cassidy said as he left court that he was always a lawmaker and not a lawbreaker.
“We did everything we can to live within the Covid regulations, and operate within the act. Bearing in mind the huge amount of people who have been affected in Ireland, the 6,500 people who have lost their lives.
Fighting back tears he said: “As I said before, I’ve been all my life a lawmaker, not a lawbreaker. And I have to thank my wife and my family, we’ve gone through a difficult time. To my legal team, Colm Smith, Willie Penrose, and JJ Mannion, who have been the backbone of keeping me sane.
“My mother used to always say, the truth always wins in the end, and I’m deeply grateful to Judge Fahy for that happening here today.
“You see what’s happened over the last two years? Well, a lot of friends lost their positions in life, serious positions that have taken 25 and 30 years to put there. I hope that the people who made the decisions on those occasions will know they have been vindicated and put good people back in the long term to serve the country.
“They were great people serving Ireland that were in difficult positions because of what happened. And it certainly wasn’t the case.
“In hindsight, everyone would do something maybe differently, but I can honestly say everything that we did was totally compliant. I think Judge Fahy has vindicated us here today by her decision. Thank you.”
Earlier Barrister Colm Smyth for Donie Cassidy said he intended to make an application for an acquittal. Micheal McDowell, appearing for Mr Grealish has said that in light of evidence by Inspector Peter Conlon, who led the investigation, his position is that he has no case to answer. He said he would apply to the court now for a declaration that his client has no case to answer.
Mr McDowell said his client’s participation was in relation to the golf event that was organised at Connemara Golf Club the previous day, August 18th, and “he had no part in organising the President’s Dinner” at the Station House Hotel, which took place on August 19th. Inspector Conlon agreed that Mr Grealish had set that out in the statement he gave to gardaí.
Earlier former minister for agriculture Dara Calleary told the so-called Golfgate court case in Galway that the dinner in Clifden, Co Galway in August 2020 was a “very unusual Irish function” because of the restrictions he encountered in the hotel that night.
Mr Calleary said his recollection was that safety was uppermost in the mind of people, both staff and guests, at the Station House Hotel in Clifden on August 19th 2020. “Everything else was secondary,” he said.
Mr Calleary said he did not play golf and arrived at the hotel with his wife on the evening of the presidential dinner. He said he had been invited to attend to speak in tribute to the late Fianna Fáil politician, Mark Killilea, a close friend of his own family.
He had said that he attended on the basis that all regulations would be adhered to and he had been assured in that respect by the president of the society, former senator Donie Cassidy. He said when he arrived every precaution was taken in relation to Covid-19 guidelines.
Mr Calleary, a Fianna Fáil TD, had recently been appointed as minister for agriculture in the coalition government but resigned within days of the event in light of the public controversy that ensued.
He said that when he arrived at the function he was asked by staff to go to his own table and did not interact or speak to other people either in the room, or in the foyer, other than to say hello.
“It was a very unusual Irish function.”
He was giving evidence at Galway District Court during the third day of the so-called “Golfgate” case, which arose from an event held by the Oireachtas Golf Society at the Station House Hotel, Clifden, Co Galway, on August 19th 2020.
Mr Calleary told the court that he went to a rostrum to deliver his speech. He told barrister Eoghan Cole, for the DPP, that he was told to keep his speech short. He said there were a number of other speeches and then the presentation of prizes.
“It was very perfunctory, it was bang bang bang,” he said.
Asked about the table arrangements, Mr Calleary estimated there were 45 or 46 people on his side of the room which was divided by a wall-to-ceiling partition. He told Mr Cole that when he spoke there was an opening in the partition which was approximately as wide as his own width. He said that because of that he could see the other section but could not make out individuals there.
He said another section of the partition had been opened during the course of the dinner that allowed dining staff to serve food and drinks. He said it closed as soon as the service ended.
Asked by Mr Cole if people had passed from one side of the partition to the other, Mr Calleary said two people came from one space to another to collect prizes. “They came and went straight back.”
He confirmed to Edward Walsh, representing hotel director John Sweeney, that the two had come through the partition separately.
Earlier a senior garda told a court that a total of 20 people who were approached by gardai to give statements declined to do so .
Inspector Peter Conlon, who led the investigation, said that 31 people had provided statements to the inquiry but after 20 people had denied to do so.
Insp Conlon also rejected a claim that the four defendants charged in relation to the gathering held by the Oireachtas Golf Society were informed they were being prosecuted after the details had been released to the media.
A defence barrister representing former senator Donie Cassidy, told the hearing at Galway Courthouse that a Garda spokesman informed the media of the prosecutions on the afternoon of February 17th 2021.
Colm Smyth SC said Mr Cassidy was not informed at that time and indeed only received the summons in relation to the alleged offence five days before the first court hearing on July 22nd 2021.
That assertion was contested by Insp Conlon. He told the court all four people were contacted simultaneously by telephone either on February 17th or on the day before. He said he and three other members of An Gárda Síochána had made the telephone calls.
Asked by Mr Smyth, if he had a record of the telephone calls, Insp Conlon said he did not but maintained the calls were made at the time.
Mr Smyth told the court that Mr Cassidy had not been informed of the prosecution until after it was reported in the national media.
“[The Garda Síochána] was not authorised to give information about a citizen of this State before they know it themselves,” said Mr Smyth.
“It is highly improper for a citizen not to know about a prosecution before it is published [in the national media].”
Insp Conlon said he spoke to no member of the media and the information had not come from him. He said the information was disclosed to the media by the Garda Press Office.
A total of 54 of the 80 who attended were residents in the hotel, the court heard, and the hotel was at full capacity that night.
Insp Conlon, under cross-examination by Mr Smyth, maintained that Sergeant Patricia Brady had sought CCTV footage from the hotel in the week following the event. However, he said she had been informed by John and James Sweeney that communications would have to be conducted through their solicitors.
In the event, no CCTV recordings were produced and the prosecuting authorities were told there was none relevant to the events in question. Prosecuting barrister Eoin Cole intervened to tell Judge Mary Fahy that the legislation did not give the Garda power to compel the production of CCTV recording.
In his evidence, Insp Conlon said part of his investigation was to find out if there was a defined space in the hotel room which hosted the event, to find out if there were one or two events that night.
He said that Sgt Brady visited and she found there was a partition down the middle of this large suite but that was two days after the event.
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