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Dara Calleary replaced Barry Cowen as agriculture minister last month after his predecessor was sacked over controversy around a drink-driving ban

Irish Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary has resigned after attending a golf dinner with more than 80 people.

Wednesday’s Irish parliamentary golf society event at a County Galway hotel came a day after Dublin announced a tightening of lockdown restrictions.

Dara Calleary had been in post for a month; he replaced Barry Cowen who was sacked after a drink-driving scandal.

The Irish PM accepted the resignation, saying Mr Calleary’s behaviour “was wrong and an error of judgement”.

Gardaí (Irish police) are now investigating the event for possible breaches of Covid-19 regulations.

Others present at the event included the former Fine Gael minister and EU Commissioner, Phil Hogan, the Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe, Fine Gael senator Jerry Buttimer and the Independent TD (MP) Noel Grealish.

Mr Buttimer, also resigned as Leas-Chathaoirleach (deputy chairman of the Irish senate) on Friday morning and apologised unreservedly for attending the event, which he said was “an unintended but serious lapse of judgement”.

Police investigation launched

Mr Calleary apologised profusely in a series of tweets late on Thursday, saying that in light of the updated public health guidance, he should not have attended the event.

“I wish to apologise unreservedly to the public, from whom we are asking quite a lot at this difficult time.”

In a statement on Friday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “People all over the country have made very difficult, personal sacrifices in their family lives and in their businesses to comply with Covid regulations.

“This event should not have gone ahead in the manner it did, given the government decision of last Tuesday.”

Tánaiste (deputy PM) and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar said the event should not have happened and that he has removed the party whip from three Fine Gael senators who attended.

He said he understands how difficult the restrictions have been for people and the enormous sacrifices that have been made and “as representatives we should lead by example”.

He added: “In recognition of the seriousness of this matter, I have removed the party whip from Senators Jerry Buttimer, Paddy Burke and John Cummins.”

Mr Hogan said on Twitter that he had attended the event “on the clear understanding that the organisers and the hotel concerned had been assured [by the Irish Hotels’ Federation] that the arrangements put in place would be in compliance with the government’s guidelines”.

He added: “Prior to the event, I had complied fully with the government’s quarantine requirements, having been in Ireland since late July.”

The EU Commission said Mr Hogan attended the event in good faith, believing arrangements were Covid compliant.

Mr Justice Woulfe, a former attorney general in the Republic of Ireland, said he attended one day of the Oireachtas Golf Society outing as a guest, but that he was “not aware in advance that there was going to be an organised dinner as part of the event”.

He said he had attended based on the understanding that the event would be within the public health guidelines, and would “never disregard governmental or health authorities advice regarding public health”.

“That I ended up in a situation where breaches may have occurred, is of great regret to me, and for which I am sorry.

“I unreservedly apologise.”

Mr Grealish, who is captain of the golf society, has also apologised.

He told Galway Bay FM he sat at a table with six people and maintained social distancing.

He claimed he was assured the event met new public health guidelines, but now realised his error of judgement.

One rule for them?

Analysis: Shane Harrison, BBC News NI Dublin correspondent

Dara Calleary has now joined Michelle O’Neill and Dominic Cummings as a senior person in political life in the UK and Ireland caught-up in a controversy over whether they broke their own Covid-19 rules.

Unlike Mr Calleary, the other two did not resign.

And so the new Taoiseach, Mícheál Martin, is now looking for his third agriculture minister in less than two months.

It has been a bad start for the new coalition government with not even the summer recess providing a break from political mishap.

Once again the issue – as was the case in Northern Ireland and England – was whether senior political figures broke their own administration’s rules, giving rise to the impression that there is one rule for ordinary people and another for the political elite.

But it’s not just the Fianna Fáil part of the coalition government that has been caught up in this affair.

With Jerry Buttimer’s resignation, pressure is now building on some associated with Fine Gael including the EU Commissioner Phil Hogan and Séamus Woulfe, a supreme court judge and former attorney general in a Fine Gael-led government.

Dara Calleary is not to be the only casualty of the Irish parliamentary golf dinner.

The 81 people at the County Galway event were split across two rooms.

In tightening Irish lockdown restrictions on Tuesday, the number of people allowed to attend indoor gatherings was reduced from 50 to six, with some exceptions.

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Micheál Martin will now have to appoint his third Agriculture minister since the end of June, when his coalition government was elected

Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane said politicians who breached regulations at the event “should resign”, especially if they are involved in setting the guidance.

He told Irish broadcaster RTÉ the golf event was a breach of the rules.

Mr Cullinane’s party colleagues in Northern Ireland have previously faced criticism for alleged breaches of regulations set by the Executive.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and other senior Sinn Féin figures maintain they acted within guidance in attending the funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey in Belfast in June.

Separate rooms

James Sweeney, from the Station House Hotel where the event was held, told RTÉ he had checked with the Irish Hotels Federation to ensure the event was compliant.

He said he was told it would be, if the guests were in two separate rooms, with fewer than 50 people in each.

Micheál Martin will now have to appoint his third agriculture minister since the end of June when his coalition government was elected.

The Republic’s cabinet is due to meet later on Friday to discuss easing the local lockdowns in counties Laois, Offaly and Kildare.



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India’s Ranjitsinh Disale wins 2020 Global Teacher Prize and splits it with runners-up

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The award, which is run by the Varkey Foundation in partnership with UNESCO, celebrates “exceptional” teachers who have made an outstanding contribution to their profession.

Ranjitsinh Disale, a teacher at Zilla Parishad Primary School, in the village of Paritewadi in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, was chosen as winner from more than 12,000 nominations and applications, from over 140 countries around the world.

The award recognized his efforts to promote girls’ education at the school, whose pupils are mostly from tribal communities.

The Global Teacher Prize said he learned the local language of the village in order to translate class textbooks into his pupils’ mother tongue.

He also created unique QR codes on the textbooks to give students access to audio poems, video lectures, stories and assignments, greatly improving school attendance. His QR technology is now being rolled out more widely across India.

The British actor and TV host Stephen Fry announced Disale as the winner at a virtual ceremony broadcast from the Natural History Museum in London on Thursday.

Rather than keeping all his winnings, Disale told Fry in an interview that he would share the prize with the other nine finalists, giving them $55,000 each — the first time anyone has done so in the award’s six-year history.

He told Fry: “I believe that if I share this prize money with nine teachers it means I can scale up their work. Their incredible work is still worthy… If I share the prize money with the rest of the teachers they will get a chance to continue their work… and we can reach out and lighten the lives of as many students as we can.”

His actions drew praise from around the world, including from the Dalai Lama, who said on Twitter and in a statement published online that he admired Disale for sharing the money.

“Educating young children, especially from poor and needy backgrounds is perhaps the best way to help them as individuals, and actively contributes to creating a better world,” he said.

The award’s nine runners-up are teachers working in the United States, Britain, Vietnam, Nigeria, South Africa, Italy, South Korea, Malaysia and Brazil.



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Pelosi eyes combining Covid aid with mammoth spending deal

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Pelosi said the $908 billion proposal released this week by a centrist group of Senate and House members helped restart the stimulus talks, which fell apart just before the election after months of dragging on with little real movement.

“There is momentum — there is momentum with the action that the senators and House members in a bipartisan way have taken,” Pelosi said Friday, in the latest sign that negotiators are closing in on a deal. “The tone of our conversations is one that is indicative of the decision to get the job done.”

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday said he’s “encouraged” by the $908 billion proposal, framing it as the type of bipartisan work that he hopes to foster as president. He cautioned that “any package passed in the lame duck session is not going to be enough overall.”

But hurdles remain. Government funding runs out in just one week, and there are still a sizable number of issues impeding an agreement on a massive spending package that would increase agency budgets for the rest of the fiscal year.

The sheer number of outstanding items at such a late stage makes it increasingly likely that congressional negotiators will require a brief stopgap spending bill to complete their work before leaving for the holidays. Such a decision could be made early next week if lawmakers fail to make significant progress over the weekend.

Pelosi demurred when asked about the possibility of a short-term stopgap to buy more time for talks, and dismissed the need for a longer term continuing resolution that would extend current government funding into early next year.

“We will take the time that we need,” Pelosi said, while acknowledging that a number of issues remain, including some outside of appropriators’ jurisdiction.

“Don’t worry about a date,” she added.

While appropriators in both chambers remain optimistic that they’ll finish their work before the holidays, Republicans and Democrats are still swapping offers and arguing over details, kicking some of the most difficult items up to congressional leaders.

For example, a House Democratic aide close to the talks said Republicans want to scrub any mentions of Covid-19 from the omnibus package entirely. Earlier this year, House Democrats added coronavirus relief to their slate of fiscal 2021 appropriations bills, while Senate Republicans have insisted that pandemic aid remain totally separate from annual appropriations measures.

Republicans are also objecting to funding for research on reducing racial and ethnic inequalities in the justice system, in addition to language that would require the Capitol Police to report on policies and procedures on eliminating unconscious bias and racial profiling during training, the Democratic aide said.

Republicans, meanwhile, are accusing Democrats of holding up omnibus talks by insisting on the removal of two Interior-Environment policy riders that have been included in annual spending bills for years. The provisions involve protections for the greater sage-grouse, in addition to a provision related to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass.

“Dredging these up right now is beyond counterproductive,” a GOP aide familiar with the talks said Thursday night.

Funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall also remains a perennial sticking point — Senate Republicans have proposed $2 billion for fiscal 2021, which began on Oct. 1. House Democrats have proposed no extra cash.

Lawmakers have also disagreed on detention beds for detained migrants in recent days, although Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — the top Senate Democrat who oversees funding for the Department of Homeland Security — said Thursday that issue may get solved without the help of leadership.

Also in question is whether the White House will ultimately support a package that classifies billions of dollars in veterans’ health care spending as “emergency” spending outside of strict budget limits. Both House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey and Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby are moving forward with their negotiations assuming that’s the case, since the White House has previously signed off on such an arrangement.

Pelosi on Friday also said that whatever coronavirus relief they include in the government funding bill will not be the last time Congress addresses the ongoing pandemic, which continues to devastate the U.S., killing more than 275,000 Americans and causing a sharp downturn in the economy. The U.S. saw the deadliest day ever on Thursday, with Covid-19 fatalities exceeding 2,700.

“President-elect Biden has said that this package would be, just at best, just a start. And that’s how we see it as well,” Pelosi said.

The speaker also defended her decision to hold out for months, demanding a larger deal in the ballpark of $2 trillion or more, only to agree to negotiate this smaller package now. McConnell, similarly, refused to come off his much smaller baseline over the summer — pushing a $500 billion package — resulting in a standoff between congressional leaders.

“That was not a mistake, it was a decision,” Pelosi told reporters, saying the dynamics have significantly shifted since the election of Biden and the quicker than expected vaccine development. “That is a total game changer — a new president and a vaccine.”

With cautious optimism about the prospect of passing some fiscal stimulus to buoy the American economy during a bleak pandemic winter, lawmakers remain hopeful that Congress will pull it together before leaving Washington, despite lingering omnibus headaches.

“You know this place — turns on a dime,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who was elected by the Democratic caucus on Thursday as the next Appropriations chair.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this story.

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Gavin Williamson Claims The UK Approved A Coronavirus Vaccine First Because It Is A “Much Better Country”

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Gavin Williamson has claimed the UK is a “much better country” than France, Belgium and the US


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Gavin Williamson has claimed the UK’s speedy approval of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine was due to it being a “much better country” than France, Belgium and the US.

The UK become the first country in the world to approve a clinical vaccine for coronavirus on Wednesday after the medicines regulator, the MHRA, gave the green light for the jab to be rolled out from next week.

The Education Secretary said this is because the UK has the “best medical regulators”, dodging questions about the impact of Brexit on the approval process of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Speaking after the approval announcement on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that “because of Brexit” the UK regulator had been able to approve the vaccine without having to wait for the European Medicines Agency to do so.

But his claims were later contradicted by both No10 and senior figures within the regulator, with a spokesperson for Boris Johnson insisting the approval was “thanks to the hard work of the MHRA”.

Meanwhile, Dr June Raine, head of the regulatory agency said the green light to roll out the vaccine from next week was made “using provisions under European law which exist until January 1”.

But pressed on the impact of Brexit on the approval process, Mr Williamson instead suggested the approval was down to the UK having “much better” medical regulators than France, Belgium and America.

“Well I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators,” he told LBC

“Much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country that every single one of them, aren’t we.”

He added: “Just being able to get on with things, deliver it and with brilliant people in our medical regulator making it happen means that people in this country are going to be the first ones in the world to get that Pfizer vaccine.”

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