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Ireland's EU commissioner, minister under fire for attending golf event amid COVID restrictions

DUBLIN (Reuters) - An Irish Cabinet minister apologised “unreservedly” on Thursday for attending a social event with more than 80 people - reported to have included European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan - which may have breached COVID-19 regulations.

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Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary and Cabinet colleagues significantly tightened nationwide coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday to try to rein in one of the sharpest infection surges in Europe, including limiting indoor gatherings to just six people.

The Irish Examiner newspaper reported that on the next night, 81 people, including current and former politicians, attended a dinner hosted by the Irish parliament’s golf society in a hotel.

Calleary said in a statement that in light of the updated public health guidance, he should not have attended the event.

“I wish to apologise unreservedly to everyone. We are asking quite a lot from everyone at this difficult time. I also offer this apology and my sincere regret to my government colleagues,” he said.

A version of the statement on Calleary’s Twitter account received almost 2,000 replies within two hours, many from people angry that they were unable to attend funerals because of the restrictions or had to cancel holidays or weddings.

Hogan, Ireland’s representative on the European Union’s executive, also attended the event, national broadcaster RTE quoted a representative for the commissioner as saying. Hogan’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Irish Independent newspaper also quoted a spokesman for Hogan as saying the commissioner complied fully with all quarantine and restricted movement requirements on his return to Ireland.

Visitors from most EU countries, including Belgium, are required to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival in Ireland under some of the strictest travel restrictions in the bloc.

The Irish Examiner quoted a spokesman from the County Galway Station House Hotel, where the event was held, as saying it was told by the hotel sector’s representative body that until guidance on the new restrictions was available, the dinner would adhere to guidelines if fewer than 50 people dined in adjoining rooms.

The two sets of diners were divided by a removable partition, the spokesman said.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Peter Cooney and William Mallard

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