The Bull bites back
Have you noticed former ceann comhairle John O’Donoghue is done with licking his wounds?
He’s intervening again, for the first time since stepping down as ceann comhairle last autumn, on issues close to his heart: sport and country pursuits. These days, these also happen to be points of difference between Fianna Fail and the Greens.
This week the Fianna Fail press office did something pro-active. It released a speech by O’Donoghue, due for delivery in the Dail well after 10pm on Tuesday night, at 5pm. It was a deadline-friendly move.
But the content of the speech gives an indication of the state of relations between the coalition partners. O’Donoghue, himself a former minister for sport, challenged Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan’s proposals to designate key international and provincial rugby matches as free-to-air for television.
If Ryan’s plans went ahead they would be potentially disastrous for Irish rugby, O’Donoghue said. Pretty clear.
Then there was the evening last month (May 11th) when Conservative leader David Cameron became Britain’s prime minister and protesters tried to “storm” the Dail. But Fianna Fail backbenchers were more concerned with halting the progression of the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill, if attendance at a packed Oireachtas environment committee meeting was anything to go by.
O’Donoghue’s carefully-worded intervention at that gathering seemed to give other disgruntled Fianna Fail backbenchers succour. He said there was concern among rural dwellers the proposed legislation was going to lead to further legislative measures that would “interfere with if not destroy” country pursuits.
O’Donoghue said while he did not believe Minister for the Environment John Gormley wished to “sow doubt in people’s minds”, the Green Party leader also had a “duty” to reassure rural dwellers about their hobbies. Apparently emboldened, Máire Hoctor, Mattie McGrath and others quickly weighed-in behind him.
And once again last week (May 26th), he was the most senior Fianna Failer to criticise elements of the proposed legislation to ban stag hunting with packs of dogs at the Oireachtas environment committee meeting.
“The great Walter Scott would never have written The Lady of the Lake if this legislation had been in place and English literature would have been deprived of the stag at eve drinking its fill,” he said.
When O’Donoghue resigned as ceann comhairle last October, he contended he had become the scapegoat for an expenses regime that had fallen into disrepute. When I highlighted his travel and accommodation expenses, along with a payment called Public Representation Allowance, for March and April this week, I hoped I wasn’t being unfair to him. It was because one of his constituency colleagues, Independent TD Jackie Healy-Rae, lodged the joint second-highest amount of all deputies, claiming €10,467.68 over two months. He can claim €37,106 a year for travel and accommodation costs because he lives 330 – 360km from Leinster House, or within what’s known as band 11.
The other TD in the constituency, Tom Sheahan of Fine Gael, claimed €10,215.68 over two months. He lives 270 – 300km from Leinster House, or within band nine.
O’Donoghue, who lives within band 11 like Healy-Rae, claimed €8,684.34 over two months – less than some TDs living within bands one and two.
Seems like the General Election is already underway in Kerry South.