Eighty-one is a lot of people. So is 82 and 80, but 81 is the number we are told attended the fateful dinner at Clifden in Connemara, and led to the resignation as Minister for Agriculture of Dara Calleary and the resignation of Senator Jerry Buttimer as deputy chairperson of the Seanad. Most headlined, however, has been the resignation of Commissioner Phil Hogan. So for the sins committed in Connemara, penance has been meted out.
It’s not clear whether Phil Hogan will cease to be an MEP, but if he follows the example of Calleary and Buttimer, he will remain an MEP, just as Calleary and Buttimer continue as TD and Senator respectively. So there may have been sackcloth but there were no ashes.
Has any journalist in Ireland suggested a full resignation by any of the three? Not that I noticed.
More interestingly still, there has been no exploration of what Leo Varadkar, leader of Fine Gael, and Micheál Martin, Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil knew about the Clifden event and when they knew it.
The nearest we got was one journalist who asked Leo Varadkar if he’d been invited. He replied that an invitation may have been sent to his office, he wasn’t sure. Micheál Martin, again as far as I know, wasn’t questioned as to whether he’d been invited.
The lack of probing on this point is significant. If Varadkar or Martin knew of the event in advance – through an invitation or some other way – then why did they not speak out, either to their party members or to the general public, and declare the event directly contrary to lock-down rules?
If they didn’t know of the event in advance, it is surely one of the most efficient acts of secrecy seen in southern politics ever. An event like that in Clifden would have required booking and considerable preparation. Many people working in the hotel would have been aware of it, including the person who took the booking. In Leinster House, an unspecified number of politicians were invited. Did they all keep this a watertight secret? If so, it was an act of remarkable efficiency.
The truth is, it seems inconceivable that neither Varadkar nor Martin, nor anyone close to them, was told about this dinner. The two leaders may in fact have been invited to it. If so, surely their office workers would have known the perils of such a gathering and would have told their leader about the invitation.
If you told a secret to 81 people at the start of a month, how likely do you think it is that not a peep of that secret would have oozed out by the month’s end?
Varadkar and Martin are guilty of not coming clean about whether they were invited and about whether they knew in advance. The Irish media are equally guilty of avoiding the pursuit of truth in this matter.