The OIREACHTAS GOLF Society told a government department it would not stop using the image of a harp as its logo despite receiving a warning about the unauthorized use of state emblems.
The harp symbol is a protected trademark under national and international law and may only be used by private entities with the consent of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
The Department for Enterprise has received a complaint about the company’s use of the emblem after it appeared on seating plans and other signs at the controversial ‘Golfgate’ event which took place in Clifden, Co Galway in August 2020.
He claimed that the use of the harp was likely to create a “false perception” that the company was tied to the state or its institutions, and that there was a risk of reputational damage stemming from the controversial.
The department then wrote to Donie Cassidy, who was the company’s president at the time of the “Golfgate” event, stating that ministerial consent was required for non-governmental entities to use the harp emblem.
She noted that no such consent appeared to have been granted to the company and invited Cassidy to provide evidence of any consent the organization may have received for use of the mark.
However, the former TD and senator sought legal advice on the matter and responded to correspondence yesterday, saying the State Symbols Protection Act does not apply to the Oireachtas Golf Society.
He referred to the relevant section of the Trade Marks Act 1996, which governs the use of emblems without ministerial consent “in the course of any activity” in the state.
‘The Oireachtas Golf Society is not a business and does not carry on any business, trade or profession within the meaning of the 1996 Act, as your minister is probably well aware,’ he wrote to a department official. .
“Therefore, I am informed that the article and the functions of the Minister under it do not in any way apply to the company or to its letterhead [which features a harp]“, added Cassidy.
“In short, none of the provisions of the law apply to the company’s use of the Brian Ború harp in its header, which I was told is completely legal, and of long date, and done with the knowledge of successive ministers in your department.
The ministry has not yet responded to the correspondence. However, an internal briefing on the matter obtained under freedom of information laws sets out the official position regarding the interpretation of the word “company” in relation to the legislation.
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He notes that the department’s intellectual property unit “takes the broadest possible view” that “business” means “any activity” for which state emblems may be used, and cites a previous example of a non-commercial entity that has been asked to stop using a national symbol.
The document also mentions the possibility of civil or criminal prosecution if a “cease and desist” approach does not result in a positive response.
Cassidy, who is now the secretary of the Oireachtas Golf Society, also expressed concern that the department’s letter could “infer a belief” that the organization may have acted illegally by using the emblem.
“I would appreciate feedback confirmation that no such inference is or was warranted,” he wrote.
Internal correspondence in which department officials discussed the matter in the months following the “Golfgate” controversy noted that the emblem used by the company was “identical” to the image of a harp used by various government entities.
He suggested “taking further action” if the golf society continues to use the state emblem, noting that it has not been officially established by the Houses of the Oireachtas, and that the logo “could give the impression that there is a connection with the state”. .