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Irish Politician Blasted For Attending Banquet Despite COVID-19 Rules

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Irish government leaders are urging a senior politician to consider resigning after he attended an 80-person dinner last week in violation of COVID-19 restrictions. Phil Hogan, who serves as the European Union's trade commissioner, has apologized twice but refused to step down. Here's NPR's Frank Langfitt from London.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hogan's decision to attend the golf banquet has infuriated many in Ireland. Speaking to Irish broadcaster RT, Prime Minister Micheal Martin castigated Hogan and other Irish politicians who participated.

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PRIME MINISTER MICHEAL MARTIN: It was very wrong, and I understand fully the anger of so many people across the country because so many people across the country have sacrificed so much. And it's very, very important that those who make the rules observe and adhere to those rules.

LANGFITT: Under pressure, Hogan offered a second apology over the weekend, singling out health care workers who he noted, quote, "continue to put their lives on the line to combat COVID-19 and all people who have lost loved ones during this pandemic." Leo Varadkar, Ireland's deputy prime minister, welcomed the apology but said Hogan has more explaining to do.

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DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER LEO VARADKAR: It's still for Commissioner Hogan to account for his actions and to give any explanations and answers to questions that might arise about whether he followed other public health guidelines in coming in and out of the country and in coming in and out of the county of Kildare.

LANGFITT: Varadkar was referring to the fact that police stopped Hogan while he was driving through Kildare, which was under lockdown, after they saw him talking on his cellphone. Hogan went on to attend the banquet as COVID cases were rising in Ireland and the government had limited most indoor gatherings to no more than six people. So far, the European Commission, which will decide whether Hogan stays or goes, has sounded supportive. Here's how spokeswoman Dana Spinant put it.

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DANA SPINANT: He attended this event in good faith and following assurances that he received that the event would be organized in conditions which are fully compliant with the regulations introduced by the Irish authorities. And, of course, with hindsight, he regrets the fact that this seems not to have been the case.

LANGFITT: Firing Hogan, though, could have far-reaching consequences. With little more than four months to go before the Brexit transition period ends, negotiations for a new trade deal between the United Kingdom and the EU are at a stalemate. If both sides can't reach agreement, it could do even more damage to economies that are already in a deep recession because of the pandemic.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "WRINGER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.