Golfgate trial: Court dismisses all charges

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Charges have been dismissed against all four defendants in the Oireachtas Golf Society ‘Golfgate’ trial at Galway District Court today.

The charges against Deputy Noel Grealish, former Senator Donie Cassidy, John Sweeney, and his son James Sweeney were dismissed by Judge Mary Fahy at the conclusion of the third day of the trial.

The four had been charged in relation to a dinner held by the Oireachtas Golf Society at the Station House hotel in Clifden on August 19 at the end of a two day golfing event. 

During the trial today the court heard more evidence from Inspector Peter Conlon, who was extensively cross-examined by defence counsel, and former Minister Dara Calleary TD.

At the close of the prosecution’s case, Mr Michael McDowell SC for Mr Grealish asked the court to dismiss the charges against his client on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove that he was an organiser of the event in question.

Judge Mary Fahy said that this was a criminal case like any other, and that there was “no direct evidence that” that Mr Grealish was involved in organising the dinner subject of the charges, and that Inspector Conlon had been clear in his evidence that there was no real connection to Mr Grealish.

Anticipating applications by counsel for the other defendants, the Judge said that it was clear that the dinner event took place in “two distinct areas of a very large hotel”.

She said that there was “most impressive” evidence given by Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe, who testified on the second day of the trial back in January.

Judge Fahy said that she was satisfied that everyone involved in the organisation of the event did everything they could to comply with the regulations, “and in my opinion, they did comply. Not in the court of public opinion, but in the court of law, in my view, they did.

There was tension earlier in the day when Inspector Conlon rejected accusations that he had leaked information about the upcoming prosecution to the media.

Mr Colm Smyth SC, counsel for Mr Cassidy said that an article on February 17, 2021 in the Irish Independent stating four people were to be prosecuted over the event, came out before his client was informed.

Inspector Conlon said that he was not aware of any article, and vehemently denied that he had leaked any information.

He said that all four defendants were informed simultaneously on either the 16th or 17th of the pending prosecution. He and three other Gardaí called them at the same time for fairness’ sake.

When asked if he had a record of that call, Inspector Conlon said that he did not, but maintained that the calls were made at that time.

Mr Smyth said that his client received no call, and that the only correspondence Mr Cassidy got was a summons to appear in court which arrived in July.

When it was put to him by Mr McDowell, the Inspector agreed that there was no offence in the golf outing itself, and in that the dinner itself would not be an offence if it was held in two separate rooms.

He said that as sections of the partition were removed to allow service and speeches, allowing air to circulate, this made it one room, and a criminal offence.

Later in the day the court also heard briefly from former Minister for Agriculture Mr Dara Calleary TD, who resigned his Ministerial role in the aftermath of the event.

Mr Calleary said that he was not a golfer, so did not attend the earlier portion of the event, but was asked to speak at the dinner in honour of the late Mark Killilea.

He said it was “clear that every precaution was taken” in ensuring the event was compliant with guidelines.

Mr Calleary said that he was met at the door of the hotel by Mr John Sweeney, who was greeting guests as they arrived.

Regarding the dinner itself, he said that he was struck by the seating of “bubbles” of people who had been playing golf together for the past two days.

When questioned by Mr Eoghan Cole BL, prosecuting, he said that there was a floor to ceiling partition, and that he didn’t see anyone from the other portion of the room until he stood up to make his speech.

He said that the gap to allow others to hear his speech was the only one in the partition at the time, which he described as about as wide as himself.

In response to cross examination by Mr Edward Walsh SC for John Sweeney, he said that he was still today satisfied that everything possible had been done to comply with guidelines.