Drew Harris defends Garda criminal investigation into Golfgate case – The Irish Times

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Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has defended the Garda’s decision to carry out a criminal investigation into the so-called Golfgate case, although the courts have since ruled that no crime was committed as the event was not did not breach Covid-19 restrictions.

“We complied with the (Covid) regulations while respecting the law,” Mr Harris said of the Garda tasked with enforcing some of the strictest public health regulations at times over the past two years.

When told by James O’Connor TD (FF) that the decision to open a criminal investigation into the Oireachtas Golf Society social event in Co Galway in August 2020 had been taken by a Garda inspector in the area of Galway, Mr. Harris was shameless.

“But that’s what the Garda Síochána law instructs us to do,” he said. “We are charged by law to prevent and detect crime if we find it.”

Mr O’Connor then told the commissioner that the alleged crimes in the Golfgate event case were later found not to be crimes, to which Mr Harris replied: ‘Well, the act of investigation is to find evidence. A brief has obviously been completed. It has been completed to the satisfaction of the Director of Public Prosecutions because a prosecution has been commenced.”

At the time of the Golfgate controversy, it emerged that then EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan was stopped in his car by gardaí in Co Kildare on his way to the outing and social gathering of the ‘Oireachtas Golf Society at Clifden.

Mr Hogan was arrested on suspicion of using his phone while driving. A member of the Garda spoke to him before using his discretion and not going any further.

Mr Harris informed Minister of Justice Helen McEntee of the incident and she informed Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Mr. Harris provided the information under Article 41 of the Garda Síochána Law. It provides for a commissioner to bring various issues to the attention of the government of the day.

At Thursday’s public accounts committee meeting, Mr O’Connor said he believed the golf event was misguided, even though it had not broken any rules. He asked Mr Harris if he thought his passing on the information had ‘contributed to the resignation of’ Mr Hogan as EU commissioner. Mr Harris said he had ‘no comment on it’.

“Huge public concern”

Mr O’Connor said the Golfgate case had had a “huge impact” on people with “very, very public career profiles”, which he said was now “a huge problem public concern”.

He questioned Mr. Harris on how the information was conveyed, particularly whether it was in writing, and whether he, Mr. Harris, had written to Ms. McEntee or the department’s secretary general.

Asked by Mr O’Connor what was “worthy” of him contacting the Justice Department about Mr Hogan, Mr Harris said Section 41 communications were confidential.

However, he said he “reviewed the matter and I considered that it met the requirements of section 41 in terms of reporting to the Minister”. He also confirmed that there was written communication and that letters were then sent to Ms. McEntee and the Corporate Secretary.

At the time, the Oireachtas Golf Society event was being portrayed in the media as a breach of Covid-19 regulations during a time when many family gatherings, including funerals, were restricted. However, in the subsequent district court case, Judge Mary Fahy found that no violation occurred at the hotel where the golf event took place.

The judge concluded that gatherings of 50 people were permitted at the time. She discovered that two such gatherings, which were properly separated, had taken place at the golf event, which she said complied with regulations at the time.

She dismissed charges against independent TD Noel Grealish and former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy, as well as hoteliers John Sweeney and James Sweeney. They were in court as it was alleged they staged an event in breach of restrictions at the time.

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