LONDON — Close to the rugged Atlantic coast, the Station House Hotel in the Irish town of Clifden offers well-heeled guests a stay that will “live in your memories forever.” But right now, that slogan seems more a threat than a promise for some of Ireland’s political leaders.
Two have already resigned after an outcry over their attendance at a dinner hosted at the hotel last week and organized by the Golf Society of the country’s legislature, the Oireachtas. The gathering took place a day after the government tightened coronavirus restrictions to combat a spike in infections, and has sparked a backlash that has also threatened the jobs of two other public figures.
The fallout from the private gala dinner reverberated well beyond Ireland on Monday as the future of the country’s representative on the European Commission and the European Union’s trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, hangs in the balance following his attendance.
Now known as “GolfGate,” the uproar is being compared to the outcry in Britain over a breach of lockdown restrictions by Dominic Cummings, a close aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Though Mr. Cummings survived that episode, critics said it eroded public trust in the British government and risked undermining compliance with coronavirus rules.
The gathering of around 80 senior Irish officials in County Galway — including some political adversaries — also prompted criticism of the ties that bind the country’s elite.
“It is the optics of a mainly male Golf Society meeting in a hotel. One law for them, and one law for the rest of us,” said Gail McElroy, professor of political science at Trinity College Dublin. Ms. McElroy added that the scandal had stoked the anger of a population exhausted by restrictions imposed to tackle the pandemic.
But the dinner may have broken a more longstanding pandemic rule in Ireland that limited the size of gatherings to 50 people, though the Golf Society’s defenders have argued weakly that the room was divided by a partition.
The furor prompted the resignation of the agriculture minister, Dara Calleary, who had attended the cabinet meeting at which the new restrictions were announced but joined the dinner at the Station House Hotel nonetheless. He also gave up his post as deputy leader of Fianna Fail, one of Ireland’s two biggest parties.
The deputy chair of the upper house of Ireland’s parliament, Senator Jerry Buttimer, also quit his role.
Among the many critics of the dinner was the leader of Sinn Fein, Mary Lou McDonald. “This isn’t a country club. This is a Parliament, and we are accountable to the people,” she told RTE, the Irish broadcaster.
The crisis was another setback for a new government that had already lost Mr. Calleary’s predecessor as agriculture minister, Barry Cowen. He was forced to quit after just 12 days as a minister because of revelations over a driving incident that happened four years ago. His replacement, Mr. Calleary, lasted 37 days.
A Supreme Court judge and former attorney general, Seamus Woulfe, also attended the dinner and is under pressure to resign.
But attention has focused on the future of Mr. Hogan, the trade commissioner. The prime minister, Micheal Martin, and the deputy prime minister, Leo Varadkar, have both criticized him, though so far he has resisted calls for his resignation.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 24, 2020
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
- In the beginning, the coronavirus seemed like it was primarily a respiratory illness — many patients had fever and chills, were weak and tired, and coughed a lot. Those who seemed sickest had pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome — which caused their blood oxygen levels to plummet — and received supplemental oxygen. In severe cases, they were placed on ventilators to help them breathe. By now, doctors have identified many more symptoms and syndromes. (And some people don’t show many symptoms at all.) In April, the C.D.C. added to the list of early signs sore throat, fever, chills and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea and nausea, has also been observed. Another telltale sign of infection may be a sudden, profound diminution of one’s sense of smell and taste. Teenagers and young adults in some cases have developed painful red and purple lesions on their fingers and toes — nicknamed “Covid toe” — but few other serious symptoms. More serious cases can lead to inflammation and organ damage, even without difficulty breathing. There have been cases of dangerous blood clots, strokes and brain impairments.
Why does standing six feet away from others help?
- The coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using that measure, bases its recommendation of six feet on the idea that most large droplets that people expel when they cough or sneeze will fall to the ground within six feet. But six feet has never been a magic number that guarantees complete protection. Sneezes, for instance, can launch droplets a lot farther than six feet, according to a recent study. It’s a rule of thumb: You should be safest standing six feet apart outside, especially when it’s windy. But keep a mask on at all times, even when you think you’re far enough apart.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
- Employers have to provide a safe workplace with policies that protect everyone equally. And if one of your co-workers tests positive for the coronavirus, the C.D.C. has said that employers should tell their employees — without giving you the sick employee’s name — that they may have been exposed to the virus.
Mr. Hogan occupies an important role in the European Commission and is engaged in sensitive trade talks with the United States, China and other nations. On Monday, his attendance at the Golf Society dinner was being considered in Brussels by Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission president.
Mr. Hogan issued a “fulsome and profound apology” on Sunday for attending the dinner. “I acknowledge my actions have touched a nerve for the people of Ireland, something for which I am profoundly sorry,” Mr. Hogan wrote on Twitter.
His fate will be decided by Ms. von der Leyen. It is rare, but not unknown, for a European commissioner to be forced out. In 2012, Malta’s former representative, John Dalli, was forced to quit his job as a health commissioner after being accused of improper links to tobacco lobbyists.
While there is strong political pressure in Ireland for Mr. Hogan to step down, some in Dublin think it would be in the country’s best interest for him to stay.
He is well regarded in Brussels, and as trade commissioner holds an influential position that is important to Ireland, particularly after Brexit created tension with London over trade with Northern Ireland. Were he to quit, there is no guarantee of an Irish replacement in that job.
“In the context of global scandals, it is all pretty minimal,” Professor McElroy said of the golf club gathering. “But it is having ramifications at the European Union level as well as domestically.”