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EU trade chief insists he broke no COVID-19 rules on Irish trip

BRUSSELS/DUBLIN (Reuters) - The Irish government on Tuesday evening said there were clear breaches of COVID-19 public health guidelines during European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan’s recent trip to his native Ireland.

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Hogan attended a golf dinner last week that outraged the Irish public and led to the resignation of an Irish minister and the disciplining of several lawmakers. He insisted on Tuesday he had adhered to all rules during the trip.

“It is clear that breaches of public health guidelines were made by Commissioner Phil Hogan since he travelled to Ireland,” Prime Minister Micheal Martin and deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said in a statement.

“The government guidelines clearly required him to restrict his movements for 14 days.”

“He should also have limited his movements to and from Kildare for essential travel only, and he should not have attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner.”

The commissioner, who oversees trade policy for the world’s biggest trading bloc, has apologised three times for attending the event with some 80 others, but said the dinner did not technically come within the remit of rules announced the previous day to restrict events.

But having arrived from a country - Belgium - which due to its relatively high rate of coronavirus infections is not on Ireland’s travel “green” list, Hogan was legally obliged to self-isolate for 14 days.

Hogan gave a detailed account of his 20-day trip to the European Union’s chief executive Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday, which included three visits to the county of Kildare, one just before it went into lockdown, and two made, he said, to collect essential trade documents and his passport.

He said he was in isolation until he received a negative COVID-19 test halfway through that period, and so was under no subsequent legal requirement to self-isolate, citing an Irish government website on general testing and isolating requirements.

However, Ireland’s Health Service Executive said its guidance does not state that a negative (not detected) COVID-19 test shortens the 14 day restricted movement requirement.

Challenged in an interview with Irish national broadcaster RTE on the different self-quarantine advice for those coming into the country and residents who have tested negative, Hogan said he did not accept the distinction and that he did everything possible to ensure he was no risk to anybody.

“Ultimately the Commissioner is accountable to the EU Commission, not to the Irish government movement or to the Oireachtas,” said Martin and Varadkar.

Reporting by John Chalmers, Philip Blenkinsop and Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool

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