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EU chief wants Hogan to spell out whether he broke COVID rules on Irish trip

DUBLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has asked trade chief Phil Hogan to further clarify whether he breached COVID-19 regulations while at home in Ireland this month, a Commission spokeswoman said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: European Trade Commissioner-designate Phil Hogan of Ireland speaks as he attends his hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Hogan apologised again on Sunday for attending a golf dinner that has caused outrage in Ireland and led its prime minister and deputy prime minister to ask Hogan to consider his position. An EU official has said Hogan will not resign.

Over 80 people attended the dinner the night after Ireland’s coronavirus restrictions were significantly tightened to cut such gatherings to a maximum of six guests. That infuriated many in Ireland who have been unable to attend funerals or had to cancel holidays or weddings to comply with some of the EU’s strictest measures to contain COVID-19 contagion.

Hogan said he attended the dinner on the clear understanding that the event was in compliance with government guidelines and that he also complied with the local lockdown rules.

Von der Leyen sought and received a report from Hogan late on Sunday, which also accounted for his movements across counties in Ireland, one of which was under local lockdown.

“It depends on what those further details and clarifications say before the president can complete her assessment based on the full picture which she needs to decide on such an important matter,” the spokeswoman told a briefing.

“This is a matter which requires careful assessment on our side. It is a matter where details count.”

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin also called on Hogan to provide “absolute assurances” he did not breach local lockdown rules, given there was a discrepancy between the commissioner’s public statements on the issue.

Hogan stopped at his apartment in County Kildare on his way to the golf outing to collect work documents, a spokesman said. Kildare was in local lockdown at the time, which the spokesman said Hogan complied with as he was returning for work purposes.

Adding to the pressure, the spokesman said Hogan was stopped and cautioned by police for using his mobile phone while driving to the golf dinner in the west of Ireland from the apartment.

While one of Martin’s ministers said Hogan should resign, the premier stopped short on Monday of asking him to quit.

The event has triggered other political resignations, including a cabinet minister.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Mark Heinrich