Ray MacSharry seeks change to Dáil record over Ansbacher claim

Ceann comhairle examining if tougher sanctions can apply for abuse of Dáil privilege

Ray MacSharry: he is requesting that his name be removed from the record of the House and be withdrawn from the transcription of Ms McDonald’s comments

Ray MacSharry: he is requesting that his name be removed from the record of the House and be withdrawn from the transcription of Ms McDonald’s comments

 

Former tánaiste Ray MacSharry has asked the Oireachtas Committee on Procedure and Privileges to remove references to him possessing an Ansbacher account from the Dáil’s record.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was found to have abused privilege when she claimed in December 2014 under Dáil privilege that six named politicians had offshore Ansbacher accounts for tax evasion purposes.

In a letter to ceann comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Mr MacSharry’s lawyers Arthur Cox thanked the committee for its actions. However, they went on to request that further action be taken to bring the matter to an end.

“While our client is grateful for what has been done to date in relation to this matter by the previous ceann comhairle and by the Committee on Procedures and Privileges, the official record of Dáil proceedings on December 3rd, 2014, continues to contain the false allegations. Our client is, therefore, anxious to bring the matter to a close by adding an amendment to the record to restore his good name.”

Mr MacSharry is requesting that his name be removed from the record of the House, and be withdrawn from the transcription of Ms McDonald’s comments.

In the event it cannot be, Mr MacSharry is asking a note be added to the official record stating he has not, at any time, held an Ansbacher or any any other offshore account for the purposes of evading tax.

He is also asking that the note include a statement setting out that the comments are “entirely false”.

Ms McDonald has been asked to withdraw her allegations but has not done so.

Options

The ceann comhairle, meanwhile, is examining whether he can enforce tougher sanctions for those who abuse Dáil privilege.

Mr Ó Fearghaíl is understood to be assessing a number of options, including introducing an automatic fine of one month’s salary for TDs found to be in breach of the rules on the subject.

He told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics that privilege was a constitutional provision “for very good reason”.

“The privilege that we have is meant to be used, but it most definitely is not meant to be abused, and we have to find ways to deal with the very limited circumstances in which members may deliberately or inadvertently abuse the privilege they are privileged to have.”

The committee on procedures is currently examining if Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and a number of Cabinet Ministers, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, abused privilege during a Dáil debate on the Jobstown protest.

Badge of honour

Currently there are limited sanctions that can be applied to a member who abuses privilege. Asked whether the committee might consider more harsh sanctions such as fines for breaches, Mr Ó Fearghaíl said he was “not going to predetermine” what will happen.

“Traditionally, I suppose, the sanction of your peers was sufficient to deter people in the past. Currently we’re in the sort of environment where the sanction of one’s peers might be considered to be a badge of honour by some people, and therefore we have to look at more pragmatic ways of dealing with the problem.”