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EU trade commissioner apologises for virus breach

EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan apologised on Sunday as he faced calls to resign for attending an Irish parliamentary golf society dinner which breached COVID-19 guidelines.

The event — attended by a cabinet minister, a supreme court judge and swathes of lawmakers — was held on Wednesday, just 24 hours after the government announced new coronavirus restrictions.

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Hogan faced pressure from Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin to “consider his position” after the revelations he was one of the 82 attendees at the dinner.

In the face of a fresh surge in cases the government specifically said there should be no “formal or informal events or parties” at hotel restaurants.

The dinner has sparked a series of resignations at the top tier of Irish politics and prompted Martin to recall parliament on Sunday.

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“I wish to apologise fully and unreservedly for attending,” Hogan said in a statement.

“I acknowledge my actions have touched a nerve for the people of Ireland, something for which I am profoundly sorry.”

Irish Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary and deputy chair of parliament’s upper chamber Jerry Buttimer have both already resigned for attending the event.

Hogan previously said he had been assured the dinner would comply with government coronavirus guidelines and did not offer an apology.

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On Saturday, Martin and deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar — the head of Fine Gael, the party for which¬†Hogan previously served as a lawmaker — said in a joint statement that “the commissioner’s apology came late” and that he needed to “give a full account and explanations of his actions”.

The Irish Examiner newspaper — which revealed details of the dinner on Thursday — said guests sat at tables of 10 in breach of coronavirus guidelines, and organisers erected a room divider in a bid to skirt legislation banning gatherings of more than 50.

Police on Friday said they had opened an investigation into the event for alleged breaches of that same legislation.

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