Senator Paul Daly said his friends and family had to endure abuse following the golfgate controversy.

'I have emotional and mental scars' from Golfgate abuse - Daly

Senator Paul Daly says that he has “emotional and mental scars” from the abuse he and his loved ones received in the fallout from the golfgate controversy

The Kilbeggan native was forced to step down from his role as Fianna Fáil chief whip in the Seanad after the party whip was taken from him and his colleagues Senator Aidan Davitt and Neil Blaney in the aftermath of the controversial dinner held by the Oireachtas Golf Society in the Station House Hotel in Clifden in August 2020.

In an interview with the Westmeath Examiner last Friday, the day after Judge Mary Fahy ruled that the organisers of the event did not breach pandemic restrictions, Senator Daly said that while he see “why the public reacted the way they did”, the last 18 months have been “tough personally”.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I don’t have emotional and mental scars... It was very tough on some of my immediate family and close friends who were vilified.

“We have been vindicated. It’s been proven that we didn’t break any law.

“They got it [abuse], they heard it. My father is senile. My parents were cocooning at the time. Let it be on radio, on print media, the pieces they were picking up on social media, it was most difficult for them. I’ll be honest, I was actually glad, and it sounds like a terrible thing to say, that my father hadn’t the comprehension to realise what was going on.

“...I signed up for public life, and a lot of this goes with it, maybe not to the extent that I’ve experienced over the last two years, but my family and friends didn’t.

Senator Daly, who stresses that he checked that the event was not in breach of pandemic guidelines before he attended, says more needs to be done to tackle abusive messages from anonymous accounts on social media.

“It’s a wild west. I am in the public domain. I respect people’s opinions. If someone puts up something and they stand over it, and it’s in their name, I have no problem with that.

“My handle or quote on Twitter that I have had long before this is: ‘I may not agree with what you say but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.’

“If someone puts up something that I don’t agree with, I respect their opinion, but it is these handles that are unidentifiable.

“We had an example recently down the road where social media assumes the role of judge, jury and executioner where an innocent man was vilified.

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“The day is going to come where there is going to be guilty people let loose because their legal teams will argue that this person didn’t have a fair trial,” he said.

Although “relieved” that Judge Fahy’s ruling in Galway District Court last Thursday proves that he and the other attendees didn’t break any laws, the controversy generated by golfgate has had a negative affect on his political career, Senator Daly says.

As Fianna Fáil chief whip in the Upper House, he was scheduled to take over as the government chief whip in December of this year when Leo Varadkar becomes taoiseach again. It would have been the “pinnacle” of his career, he says.

“I was a late vocation to this. I am not going any further. It was a great honour. When Micheál had 20 senators, he had two positions to give out, leader and whip, he chose me and that was a great honour and a recognition that I was doing something right.

Reflecting on the last year and half, Senator Daly says that “emotionally, it has been hard to handle”.

“I have never been involved in controversy before. I haven’t been a career politician. It was a late vocation. I am not from a political dynasty so it was my first experience of controversy.

“I think the people of Kilbeggan and Westmeath know me. I haven’t been involved in controversy before. I have often read and heard about politicians getting involved in controversial situations and said ‘that will never be me’ or ‘how did they let that happen’. It just happens.

“I do empathise and sympathise people who had far greater losses and I can see why they reacted like they did. If I was in their shoes and had a family bereavement, I might have reacted the same way.”

He added that he is “eternally grateful” for the support he received from family and friends. “They were rocks of strength. You find out who your real friends are when your back is to the wall,” he said.