An irate Senator Sharon Keogan told Meath Live, ‘ Please don’t contact me again’, after we called her in relation to a 268 km round trip she admitted making to visit a councillor in Clara county Offaly last Sunday week.
And furious Keogan appeared to justify her journey when she claimed, ‘ I am elected to the entire island of Ireland’.
Clara is just a ten minute drive from the county town of Tullamore, one of the country’s Covid hotspots,
The most recent update from the HSE shows that the incidence rate in Tullamore stands at 823.1 cases per 100,000 population.
That’s over five times the national average of 164.1 and a far cry from the pre-Christmas low of 85.7 cases per 100k in the area.
We got in touch with the Senator after she had posted the following on her Facebook page on April 4th, ‘ Today I went down to Clara, County Offaly, to visit Collr Ken Smollen who runs a charity called KS Food Appeal’.
Politicians are deemed to be essential workers, but what we wanted to know was precisely how this trip could be deemed as essential work, and some clarification on what the Senator understood the travel regulations were in relation to politicians.
When our reporter broached the subject, Keogan blasted ‘ Do you know what my constituency is? I represent the entire island of Ireland, now you take what you like from my Facebook page and please don’t contact me again’, before quickly concluding the call.
Undeterred in our quest for an answer we spoke to a man who should know, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Senator Mark Daly and he bravely attempted to clarify the current position as regards travel rules for politicians.
In a statement he said, ‘ Under normal circumstances it would not be unusual for Senators to travel far and wide for the purposes of their work.
‘Senators represent a large number of various interest groups and in that respect their work is varied and diverse by nature.
‘However a lot of what we did pre Covid has changed for the moment we are engaging with our constituents on virtual platforms.
‘Any breaches of public health regulations would be a matter for An Garda Siochana.’
Armed with this new information we sent the following questions to Sharon Keogan by email and Facebook.
1; In the call you say ‘Do you know what constituency I represent’.
Are there actual constituencies for Senators or as you claim, is your constituency the whole island of Ireland
2; Are you of the opinion that the 5k travel restriction or same county travel restriction does not apply to politicians
3; Allowing for the fact that TD’s and Senators can be classified as essential workers was a trip to Clara to as you say on Facebook ‘visit’ councillor Smollen essential work in your opinion
4; Do you accept that a highly respected and well regarded Senator making a trip of this nature would upset those who cannot travel to see loved ones because of the travel restrictions currently in place.
5; In hindsight would you make the trip again
6; Is this the first time you travelled more than 5km for any reason, excluding trips to and from the Seanad or on Seanad related business
7; Do you feel that on this occasion an apology is in order
The questions were sent last Friday and they remain unanswered, if we do receive a reply we will publish it.
Ken Smollen did not respond to a request for a comment.
However one high level political source with wide ranging ministerial experience, claimed, ‘ Look it can be argued that the rules may well be a grey area but even at that you don’t travel unless you absolutely 100% have to, the optics are really bad if you do.
‘There are thousands of people who can’t travel to see loved ones laid to rest, visit loved ones in nursing homes, attend weddings, christenings and other events so for a Senator to be seen doing this would understandably be regarded as a further kick in the teeth by them.
‘If high profile football teams are rightly being criticised for breaching Covid regulations in terms of gathering together for training politicians should be astute enough, and safety conscious enough, not to allow the slightest suspicion of rule breaking become attached to them, that is a lesson that should have been learned from GolfGate.’
It’s not the first time the Senator has become embroiled in asocial media situation as in August 2019 Keogan found herself in a row when in the aftermath of the death of Nora Quoirin, the 15-year-old girl who was found dead after 10 days missing in the Malaysian jungle while on a family holiday, she wrote on Facebook, ‘This was a tragic end for this family, but should children with special needs who have poor ability to communicate be microchipped with GPS?
‘This has been asked of me by a parent of a teenager with no verbal skills! What do you think? Please discuss!’
She later apologised saying, ‘It certainly wasn’t my intention to offend people.’