Coronavirus: Irish tourism boss quits after defying staycation plea for holiday to Italy

The head of Ireland’s tourism promotion body has resigned after it emerged he has been holidaying in Italy despite government advice to take a staycation instead.

Following reports that he was abroad, Failte Ireland chairman Michael Cawley confirmed he was on a “pre-arranged family holiday in Italy, which is on the government green list”.

“As I have no wish to allow this issue to become a distraction from the important work of Failte Ireland in rebuilding the Irish tourism industry, I have decided after six years in the position to step down,” continued Mr Cawley, who is also a Ryanair director and served as the airline’s finance chief and deputy CEO.

Tourism minister Catherine Martin said in a statement she accepted Mr Cawley’s resignation during a phone call she made to him after learning of the holiday on Saturday morning.

“Tourism and hospitality have suffered significant losses since the start of this pandemic, with the industry in the three midlands counties of Laois, Kildare and Offaly particularly affected at present,” she said.

“As a sign of solidarity with the industry, and to help the country reopen its schools safely, the government and my department in particular have encouraged people to holiday in Ireland this year.”

She said that while Italy is on the green list, meaning people who return from there do not have to quarantine, Irish citizens are still urged to avoid all non-essential travel.

“Many of our citizens and residents have followed this guidance at some personal and financial cost to themselves… I believe (Mr Cawley’s) position was untenable,” she added.

Calls for Mr Cawley to quit followed a report in the Irish Independent newspaper on Saturday morning.

Mr Cawley told the newspaper it was a “family decision and a personal decision” to travel, and that he had met family members who lived abroad.

Sinn Fein tourism spokesperson Imelda Munster said in a tweet that it was a “fundamental error of judgement”.

“Huge lack of leadership and total disregard for the present situation,” she said.

“No patience for this from the head of Failte Ireland.”

Mr Cawley is the first senior official in Ireland to resign for flouting coronavirus guidance.

Scotland’s chief medical officer resigned in April after she ignored her own advice to stay at home at the peak of the UK-wide COVID-19 lockdown.

On Friday, the Republic of Ireland recorded 67 new coronavirus cases, but no deaths linked to the disease.

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