Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Dara Calleary vows to work ‘exceptionally hard to rebuild trust’
Former Minister for Agriculture Dara Calleary said last night that he has let a lot of people in Mayo and in the country down by attending the Oireachtas Golf Society function in Clifden on Wednesday night last.
Deputy Calleary tendered his resignation as Minister for Agriculture to Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Friday morning after news of his presence at a gathering of over 80 people at the function in the Station House Hotel in Clifden broke on Thursday evening. Yesterday, it was revealed he was also stepping down as deputy leader of Fianna Fáil.
The function appears to be a clear breach of new Covid-19 public health guidelines, passed at a Cabinet meeting at which Calleary was present on Tuesday last.
He said he had given a commitment to attending the function some weeks previously.
“I said I’d do it on the basis it was all fully compliant and that I was given absolute assurances that it was, and I was given those assurances,” he told The Mayo News.
“I was told it would be … at the actual event itself, there was a lot of social distancing at it. I accepted the assurances. The assurances were given based on the old guidelines.
“The overriding thing is I shouldn’t have gone to the event, but I had given a commitment and I didn’t want to let people down, but in doing that, I’ve let a lot of people down.
“I’m not blaming the organisers. I’m not blaming the hotel. I shouldn’t have gone to it, and I’m taking full responsibility for having gone to it. And that’s where it’s at for me.”
Calleary said he can understand the public anger at him for attending such a function in breach of public health guidelines.
“The anger is rooted in where people have been and what people have gone through. And I certainly never wanted to add to that anger or add to that distress. I genuinely, genuinely didn’t. I cannot describe how much I didn’t want to add to that anger and stress. But I have and that’s why I took the decision I did in terms of resigning, because I have to acknowledge that. I can only continue to stress my deepest apologies and sincerest regrets for my actions,” he said.
When asked if he considered leaving once he saw the function was breaching guidelines, Calleary admitted that he had felt ‘a little bit uneasy’.
“I knew there was a big crowd there, and that made me a little bit uneasy. I just felt I couldn’t leave it when I was at it. For what it’s worth, I was very conscious at the event. I didn’t mix tables. I observed my own social distancing as far as I could. But that’s detail. I shouldn’t have been there, and I’m taking full responsibility for my actions in this regard.”
Calleary said he spoke to Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Thursday evening and that he had his mind ‘more or less made up’ on Thursday but ‘wanted to reflect on it during the night’ before tendering his resignation early on Friday.
It has been a tumultuous few weeks for Dara Calleary. He was initially overlooked for a senior cabinet position but was promoted when Barry Cowen was sacked as Minister for Agriculture. However, 37 days later, Calleary found himself on the Government backbenches with Cowen.
He said he ‘sincerely apologises’ to those who have supported him.
“A lot of people put their hope and their trust in me and I’ve damaged that trust now. I can only reiterate that I’m going to work exceptionally hard to try to rebuild that trust, and to try to deal with the issues. The issues we discussed last week about the hospitals, the various infrastructure in the county, jobs ... Obviously, I will have to work a lot harder on them now, to regain people’s trust, but I’m going to commit to do that. And I’m going to work tirelessly to do that during the course of this Dáil.”
When asked if he has any opinion on what actions others who were at the event, including EU Commissioner Phil Hogan, should take, Calleary said: “I’m not in a position to pass judgment on anyone else that was there.”
Right now, he says, he is just looking to put his ‘head down and work hard’.
“The immediate future is to catch your breath with family – it’s been a really rough time for them – and with close friends and supporters. There’s a job of work to be done for the county. I just have to get stuck into that work. You never know where this is going to go, but I have a lot of work to do to rebuild trust. And I’m just going to put my head down and work hard.”