Ireland’s Golfgate can reveal a more responsive EU

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by Aimee Donnellan via Reuters Breakingviews

The “Double Standards Arms” features in a currently popular Irish video. At this pub, a golfer explains, our 81-person party doesn’t actually break the 50-person anti-pandemic limit. After all, many of the guests will be dignitaries like Phil Hogan, Ireland’s European commissioner. And everyone knows that they don’t count. The reference is to an over-the-limit outing of 81 people, mostly political bigwigs, in county Galway last Wednesday. The gathering breached the rules because of a resurgence of positive tests for Covid-19.

The elite’s flouting of restrictions that the masses were willingly and painfully obeying has become a national scandal. “Golfgate” has already led to one minister’s resignation. Some 75% of the Irish think that Hogan, who was stopped by police for using his mobile phone while driving to the event, should also quit, according to a poll conducted by the Irish Mail on Sunday. The insensitivity of the participants is a little surprising. The Irish government made a big deal about sharing the sacrifices of lockdowns, which included limited attendance at funerals and weddings. Those are generally considered more significant events than golf outings, so that brazen elite pleasure-seeking was certain to rouse popular fury.

However, the national scandal could be an opportunity for the European Union. Brussels is often accused of being undemocratic and out of touch with the people. That impression would certainly be reinforced if Hogan toughs out the scandal in the style of Dominic Cummings, a leading adviser to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was caught in a similar rule-breaking episode. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has asked Hogan for an explanation of just what happened. She might explain to him that in the EU national rules apply to everyone, including European commissioners.

A resignation would be honourable, but not necessarily expedient for Ireland. Hogan is a key Brexit negotiator, so a non-Irish replacement might be less keen to defend Dublin’s interests. But in the long run, that is probably a price worth paying for closing down the “Double Standards Arms”.