EU Trade Chief Rejects Criticism He Broke Irish Virus Rules

European Union Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan rejected calls to quit over his controversial attendance of a social event in his native Ireland that appeared to violate rules designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

While he apologized for ``any distress caused,” Hogan, the EU’s top trade negotiator, said that he followed the government’s quarantine rules and had been assured that the event met Ireland’s pandemic guidelines. Hogan was among 80 people at the Wednesday function organized by the Irish parliament’s golf society in the west of Ireland. Government guidelines had laid out rules that said no formal or informal events or parties should be organized at cafes and restaurants.

The EU’s top executive arm, the commission, also issued a statement backing him up and there’s no evidence yet of any orchestrated move from Dublin to push him out. While it looks like Hogan might stay put, it’s an awkward development and has already cost one Irish minister his job. Hogan needs to “go further” with his apology, Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath said, adding ultimately he was accountable to European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen.

Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who helped secure Hogan’s role while he was premier, said the event “should not have happened.”

“I understand how extremely difficult the restrictions have been for people and the enormous sacrifices we have all made,” he said. “Funerals, christenings, weddings, family holidays and other really important family occasions have been foregone to protect each other and the most vulnerable. As representatives, we should lead by example.”

While he sanctioned other party officials who attended the event, he omitted any reference to Hogan. Police have opened a probe into event and opposition politicians are adamant that Hogan, who at one time aspired to lead the Word Trade Organization, should go.

Those attending showed “stunning arrogance,” opposition lawmaker Aodhan O’Riordan told RTE Radio.

Irish Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary stepped down after it emerged he attended and spoke at the event. The virus has surged back in Ireland, with new daily cases now roughly five times the rate in early July. “The rules are very clear,” Education Minister Norma Foley said in an RTE radio interview on Friday. “We must all behave as we are asked to behave.”

Europe Battles Virus Spike With No Appetite for New Lockdowns

The commission is accepting Hogan’s explanation: “On Tuesday, he attended the event organized by the Irish Parliamentary Golf Society in good faith, on the clear understanding that the organizers and the hotel concerned had been assured by the Irish Hotels’ Federation that the arrangements proposed to be put in place would be in compliance with the government’s guidelines.”

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