charges dismissed RTÉ opens door to Sean O’Rourke, but Coalition silent on futures of Golfgate politicians
Taoiseach and Tánaiste silent on the futures of Hogan and Calleary
RTÉ has left the door open to a return for broadcaster Sean O’Rourke as the Coalition remains silent on the future of politicians linked to the Golfgate controversy.
Following the dismissal of charges against four men charged in relation to the controversial Oireachtas golf society dinner yesterday, Mr O’Rourke said 'he is hopeful that he will be allowed return to the airwaves in RTÉ'.
In response to queries, RTÉ said it would be willing to consider further opportunities with Mr O’Rourke.
However, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar did not respond to requests for comment over the futures of former agriculture minister Dara Calleary and ex-EU commissioner Phil Hogan. Mr Calleary and Mr Hogan were both forced out of their jobs following public outrage caused by the event in August 2020.
The event at the Station House Hotel in Clifden led to public outcry as 81 people attended at a time when Covid restrictions limited indoor gatherings to 50 people.
The trial of the four men at Galway District Court heard they were split into two rooms separated by a partition.
Galway West Independent TD Noel Grealish (55), former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy (75), and John Sweeney (60) and his son James Sweeney (32), who own the Station House Hotel, had been accused of illegally holding the event.
They were cleared of any wrongdoing by Galway District Court yesterday.
While concluding that the charges should be dropped, Judge Mary Fahy said that those in attendance at the dinner were “all responsible people who would not have gone to a dinner if they didn’t feel comfortable and feel that the hotel and the organiser had put in place all that was required to make it safe”.
She added: “Unfortunately, as a result of this dinner, very good people lost very good positions and contracts.”
This is seen as a reference to Mr O’Rourke, Mr Hogan and Mr Calleary.
Mr O’Rourke, who was due to front new radio and television projects in late 2020, told the Irish Independent that the Golfgate episode had been “traumatic” and he was glad the case had concluded.
Plans for the veteran journalist to start a new contract with RTÉ following his retirement from the popular Today With Sean O’Rourke show were scrapped after it emerged he was in attendance at the controversial dinner.
Asked for his reaction last night, Mr O’Rourke said he had followed the trial closely.
“So much happened during the pandemic and people had to endure far worse than what I went through, but yes, it was traumatic for me,” he said of the controversy.
“The atmosphere was febrile at the time. I lost a good contract to resume the broadcasting work I love.”
Mr O’Rourke said the situation had “a big effect” on his family as well.
“I’m glad the case is over. I would like to be back on air.
“I have good relations with many people in RTÉ and I am hopeful that a way will be found for me to work again on radio and television with RTÉ.”
Mr O’Rourke is understood to have met with RTÉ chiefs in the days following the golfing event in Clifden, Co Galway, to discuss the fallout. However, it became clear that he would not be allowed back on air.
He had presented the final instalment of his daily show the previous May.
After that meeting in August 2020, RTÉ issued a statement in which it announced it was cutting ties. They thanked Mr O’Rourke for his “enormous contribution to broadcasting” and wished him well “with his future plans”.
In response to queries, the national broadcaster said: “RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes said at the end of 2020 that Sean is a tremendous broadcaster who had a big impact during his time with RTÉ and that if opportunities present themselves, RTÉ will, of course, consider them. This remains the case.”
During three days of proceedings at Galway District Court, the court had heard from a range of witnesses including Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe, a former attorney-general who was appointed to the Supreme Court in July 2020, a month before the controversy.
Speaking outside court after the charges were dismissed, Mr Cassidy said: “A lot of friends lost their positions in life, serious positions that have taken 25 and 30 years to put there.
“And I hope that the people who made the decisions on those occasions will now, when they have been vindicated, put those good people back in the long term.”
Noel Grealish’s solicitor Shane McSweeney gave a statement on behalf of his client.
He said: “My client Noel Grealish welcomes the outcome of today’s trial.
“He wants to thank Judge Fahy for her careful and considered stewardship of the trial which was the subject of intense media interest.
“He is grateful to his legal team and in particular to Michael McDowell, senior counsel, and John Hogan BL for their advice and counsel throughout the matter.
“He regrets that people found the events or the reportage with regards to the events that occurred in Clifden hurtful but is absolutely satisfied that he did no wrong and that is the judgment of the court on the matter.
“He found the last two years stressful with this hanging over him and he looks forward to putting this matter behind him and getting on with the important business of serving his constituents and his role as public representative.”
Speaking in person, Mr Grealish only added that he was “delighted, with the outcome”.
Earlier yesterday, Mr Calleary appeared briefly as a witness in the trial.
“It was very clear that every precaution was being taken in terms of Covid-19 guidelines,” he told the court.
“It wasn’t a normal function,” he said, as he described the spacing between tables at the dinner.
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