Four men have gone on trial in Galway, charged with breaching regulations aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19.

The proceedings relate to an event at a hotel in Clifden in August 2020, which took place after an Oireachtas Golf Society outing.

Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish, former Fianna Fáil senator, Donal (Donie) Cassidy, along with James and John Sweeney, of the Station House Hotel in Clifden are all charged with organising - or causing to be organised - an event that contravened the Health Act, as amended by emergency legislation in 2020.

The trial before Judge Mary Fahy is under way at Galway District Court.

Prosecution Barrister Eoghan Cole told the court that it was "highly unlikely" that the case would conclude in two days.

A number of witnesses due to give evidence today have been unable to physically attend court, as a result of the pandemic.

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There has been extensive legal argument about the interpretation of regulations and guidelines surrounding gatherings of the kind that took place in Clifden.

Mr Cole said amendments to the Health Act were contained in a number of Statutory Instruments passed in 2020. These clearly stated that no more than 50 people could attend an indoor event.

He said the prosecution case was that all four accused fit into the category of event organisers, and were in breach of the regulations in place.

But Colm Smyth SC, for Mr Cassidy, contended that the status of Failte Ireland guidelines for the hospitality sector needed to be taken into account by the court.

He said the event in Clifden was "not a frolic" and had taken place in two separate rooms.

Mr Smyth said that there had been an assumption that what the Government decided the night before had legal effect, but they were not in force for some time afterwards.

He said public sentiment had been whipped up and that "a lot of very good people" had to resign in the aftermath of the gathering.

Mr Smyth said his client had taken all precautions, made inquiries, checked guidelines and consulted with people in advance of the gathering, to satisfy himself that rules would be adhered to.

He pointed out that this guidance had the imprimatur of the State and put it to the court that it allowed for multiple gatherings to be held in separate rooms.

Michael McDowell SC, for Mr Grealish, said his client had been accused of organising an event that contravened the Health Act. He said Mr Grealish had made it clear at all times that he had no role in the organisation of the event.

Edward Walsh SC, for John Sweeney, said the event was organised in accordance with legislation then in force.

He said it was "absolutely the case" as far as industry and his client was concerned, that the guidelines evolved as part of an agreed process with the Department of Tourism, and that until such time a changes were enacted into law, the status quo remained in place.

The case is continuing this afternoon, with evidence from some of those who attended the dinner.

Former Captain of the Guard in Leinster House, John Flaherty, said he travelled to the event on the invitation of Donie Cassidy. He told the court that he was seated at a table with - among others - former TD Micheal Harty, Senator Paddy Burke and broadcaster Seán O'Rourke.

All courses and drinks throughout the meal were served by waiting staff.

Mr Flaherty said the dinner ended at around 11pm and was followed by a number of speeches, for about 20 minutes.

People then dispersed in a "very civilised manner, they didn’t hang around".

Mr Flaherty said he was satisfied at all times that Covid-19 regulations were being adhered to during his time in the hotel. He said he would not have attended the event had he thought otherwise.

Under cross examination by Mr McDowell, Mr Flaherty said that Mr Grealish was a "stand-in" captain for the event in Ballyconneely. He agreed with the contention put forward by Mr McDowell that Deputy Grealish would not have attended the event, had he felt it was in breach of guidelines.

Mr Flaherty also outlined the role he played from a health and safety perspective, at both Leinster House and the Convention Centre, in order to ensure Covid-19 guidelines were being followed.

Asked about his recollection of the event in Clifden, he said "I felt safe".

Mr Flaherty told Mr Walsh that he made a statement to gardaí about the dinner in January of last year, after being contacted in mid December 2020. He said he did so voluntarily.

Responding to Constance Cassidy SC, for James Sweeney, he said there was no mixing at tables, Covid notices were displayed and there was ample stocks of hand sanitiser.

Mr Flaherty's guest at the golf outing, Rod McAuliffe, was the second witness to give evidence this afternoon.

He said the competition was played as a four ball at Ballyconneely Golf Course and that he stayed at the Station House Hotel for both nights.

He detailed how he was seated at Table 4 for the dinner, in a room with around 45 to 50 others.

Mr McAuliffe said a partition between the room he was in and the adjoining room was opened for a number of speeches, given by Donie Cassidy, Noel Grealish and Phil Hogan.

Another member of the Oireachtas Golf Society, Cait Hayes, has also been in the witness box. She said people knew from a table plan where they would be seated for the dinner.

The former head of protocol in the Houses of the Oireachtas, said a guest she brought to the gathering was "medically compromised" so she checked the dining area in advance of the dinner, to ensure there were no difficulties. When she saw no reason for concern, she returned to her room and told her friend that the set up seemed fine.

Ms Hayes was seated at Table 6, with seven others. She told the court that there were five other tables in the room.

She said she was aware of a partition between both rooms being slightly ajar during the speeches and the prize-giving ceremony.

Asked by Judge Fahy if she was aware of how many people at the dinner were hotel residents, Ms Hayes said she could not say.

Fianna Fáil Senator, Aidan Davitt, was also at the dinner.

He told the trial how he felt management of the hotel were "on top of their game" in relation to Covid.

"I think they put their best foot forward…and were very particular in the way they ran the operation."

Senator Davitt said he was seated in the 'back room’, which had five or maybe four tables, with around 30-odd people there.

He left the room before the speeches, as he was worried they would have dragged on for a long time.

Senator Davitt told Colm Smyth SC that he was not surprised to hear that 54 people involved in the competition were staying at the Station House Hotel.

He said that over the course of his three-night stay, he would have seen fellow parliamentarians and fellow competitors around the building.

He said he had not been at any other event during the pandemic that was as well marshalled.

The court also heard from former Cavan Monaghan TD, Paudge Connolly, who said he made inquiries in advance of the gathering, to make sure it would comply with regulations. He said he was satisfied this was the case.

Today's proceedings ended with witness statements from a number of others who were at the dinner being read into the record.

The trial will resume in the morning.