Ireland’s agriculture minister resigned on Friday after he said he had damaged the national effort to contain Covid-19 by attending a social event police are investigating for an alleged breach of health regulations.
was among more than 80 guests at a hotel dinner hosted by the Irish parliament’s golf society the night after he and his cabinet colleagues significantly tightened nationwide restrictions to try to rein in an increase in infections.
Ireland has maintained some of the strictest controls in Europe and the government has been criticised for what many see as poorly communicated and contradictory new restrictions, including limiting indoor gatherings to six people.
Other politicians, including the European trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, attended the dinner, which has drawn a wave of public anger.
“I want to apologise to everyone … I have damaged the national effort to try and take on Covid,” Calleary told his local radio station, Midwest Radio. “I’ve let people down, I’ve angered a lot of people, I’ve stressed a lot of people who have had to make very difficult calls over the last six months.”
The taoiseach, Micheál Martin, accepted Calleary’s resignation, saying he made the right decision for the country and that the event should never have gone ahead.
An initial apology late on Thursday on Calleary’s Twitter account received almost 2,000 replies within two hours, many from people angry that they had been unable to attend funerals or had to cancel weddings or holidays because of the rules.
The Irish Times quoted a person who had stayed at the hotel but did not wish to be named as saying that he had seen no evidence of social distancing when the attendees arrived, that they were not wearing masks and that they shook hands with one another.
Police said they were investigating the event for alleged breaches of public health regulations.
The deputy leader of Ireland’s upper house of parliament, a member of Fine Gael, one of three governing parties along with Martin’s Fianna Fáil, also stood down.
Hogan, Ireland’s representative on the EU’s executive for the last six years, said in a statement that he had attended the dinner on the clear understanding that the hotel had been assured the arrangements in place would comply with guidelines.
He also said he had complied fully with travel restrictions to self-isolate for 14 days, having been in Ireland since late July.
A senior member of the main Irish opposition party, Sinn Féin, said Hogan should also resign over his attendance.
Calleary was named agriculture minister last month when his predecessor was fired after news emerged of a drink-driving prosecution two weeks into the term of Martin’s new coalition government.