Von der Leyen ‘taking note’ of claims Phil Hogan broke Irish lockdown rules
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European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has “taken note” of statements by the Irish authorities claiming that EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan broke coronavirus lockdown rules.
Mr Hogan maintains he did not break any regulations while home in Ireland but Taoiseach Micheal Martin and other senior members of his Government said it was clear the EU official’s actions breached public health guidance.
European Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant said Ms von der Leyen was still examining the case after Mr Hogan sent her a 20-page report of his time in Ireland, which included the controversial Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Clifden, Co Galway.
“It is a detailed report, it’s a report which is public to ensure full transparency about the moves by the commissioner during that period in Ireland,” Ms Spinant told reporters in Brussels.
“The president is in contact with Commissioner Hogan about it.
“On the other hand we have taken note of the statement from Irish authorities… but this is the only thing that we can say at this stage, so once more the president continues considering the matter, she’s examining and assessing carefully on the basis of that report.”
The European Commission refused to say whether Ms von der Leyen maintained the same level of trust in Mr Hogan as when he was appointed trade commissioner.
Ms Spinant added: “The president is in the course of making her assessment, and before making her assessment it is impossible, and I’m not going to enter into any discussion referring (to) trust, confidence, or anything else.
“So, this is where we stand now, we are less than 24 hours following the submission of that detailed report by Commissioner Hogan.
“It is important to have a complete and fair assessment of that report, and this is the stage where we are in the process.
“I have nothing else to announce in relation to how the president feels about this measure before she completes her assessment.”
In the context of attending the dinner, in the context of the various other breaches, I think he's undermined the whole approach to public health in Ireland
Another 164 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in Ireland, the National Public Health Emergency Team said.
No new deaths were reported.
Mr Martin said it is clear Mr Hogan broke public health guidelines in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Ireland.
Speaking from a Dublin school on Wednesday, Mr Martin refused to be drawn on whether Mr Hogan should resign, adding that he will not seek to “influence or interfere” with Ms von der Leyen’s investigation.
“It is a decision for the president of the commission within the legal frameworks that she has to operate within,” Mr Martin said.
“In respect of his role as a European Union commissioner, I said this before, the Tanaiste (Leo Varadkar) has said it, he’s performed well as the commissioner and that’s not something I’m going to resile from in terms of his performance as commissioner.
“In the context of attending the dinner, in the context of the various other breaches, I think he’s undermined the whole approach to public health in Ireland.”
Mr Martin also said the Government had to make the public’s anger known to the commission over accusations Mr Hogan breached guidelines.
He denied that he or any Irish Government official has contacted Ms von der Leyen about the matter, adding: “I think one of the big challenges here and difficulties has been the changing narrative around the commissioner’s movements and the degree to which he breached or didn’t breach guidelines.
“Now we are very clear on all three fronts he breached the guidelines.
“That has been a difficulty in terms of confidence in the story and that’s why we sought a comprehensive statement and why we sought an interview.
“He was not correct yesterday in his assertions around having taken a test that absolves you from having to restrict your movements. It didn’t. You have to continue to restrict your movements for the 14-day period.”
In a document published on the European Commission website, Mr Hogan said he tested negative for Covid-19 while in hospital for treatment on August 5 and claimed that “ended the self-restriction period” after he flew in from Belgium.
However, the HSE issued a statement saying that all travellers from non-green list countries, including Belgium, must restrict their movements for 14 days, even if they test negative for Covid-19 during that period.