Jim Carroll

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Expense claims of the rich and famous

Unfortunately they don’t do moats in Co Kerry. For a couple of a weeks in a row over the summer, the Sunday Tribune did their level best to emulate the Daily Telegraph with former Minister for Fun John O’Donoghue taking …

Tue, Sep 15, 2009, 11:14


Unfortunately they don’t do moats in Co Kerry. For a couple of a weeks in a row over the summer, the Sunday Tribune did their level best to emulate the Daily Telegraph with former Minister for Fun John O’Donoghue taking the place of British MPs in the firing line. Like those MPs and their expenses, O’Donoghue has provided enough eating and drinking (no receipt provided) for several news cycles and it made for rare aul’ crack to go through his spending habits when he had the keys to the Department of Fun’s executive washroom in his possession.

As Minister for Fun, O’Donoghue travelled far and wide as a rep of the artists, sportsmen and tourist interests of this small, gallant, occasionally soggy, green land. If there was a function which needed a friendly Irish face, the Minister for Fun was the man who was happy to hop on a plane and head along for a few sandwiches. It’s a cushy gig. You turn up, you smile, you shake some hands, you do your best not to disgrace yourself or the country outside the privacy of your hotel suite.

Along the way, O’Donoghue naturally accumulated expenses for limos, porters, hotels and sundry expenses. Aside from these “legitimate” expenses, he may also have put his hand in his pocket to buy a few raffle tickets for an Irish Centre draw, pay the bill for half-a-dozen novelty Jackie Healy-Rae hats in various sizes and stick a few quid on a horse running in the 4.05. The receipts for these, though, probably belong in the Clarence Royce “walking around money” category and that’s something unfortunately far beyond the reach of FOI requests. Nonetheless, O’Donoghue’s vouched-for expenses were sizable and the Trib had several field days as a result.

Yesterday, after a summer when he probably could have built a magnificent dormer bungalow on the high moral ground such was the length of his tenure there, O’Donoghue fought back with a letter to his fellow expenses claimants in Dail Eireann. Not a statement to the general public, mind, a letter to his fellow TDs.

While the letter may have pitched as a clearing-the-air excercise, it’s hard not to read it as a warning to his peers. Lads, he seems to be saying, they got me so they might get ye too before very long. Batten down the hatches. Keep it zipped. You could be the next one dragged through the mire by the fecking media.

His peers are well aware of this. When RTE News covered the story last night, they got a few unusually shy Leinster House inhabitants to talk on camera and showed, as the TD or senator was speaking, how much he claimed in expenses in a recent year. There was probably a gallery of raised eyebrows around the country as constituents took in those amounts, added them to the TD’s salary and came up with a grand six-figure sum. No point in telling folks that all those expenses are vouched for and above board. Nothing to be gained in cribbing that the TD has to support every sports club or community centre draw in the county. Basic maps trumps applied maths every time, especially when wage cuts and tax increases are the lingua franca of the day.

But the problem for Irish politicians is more than just about perception. They really do think they are a class apart. Look at the ex-Minister for Fun pointing out that he took a pay-cut as he seeks to defend his quite generous jollies. There can’t be a single person in the land who hasn’t already taken a pay reduction in some shape or other, yet here is O’Donoghue using this as some sort of pious smokescreen (“I had not intended to draw any attention to the fact that I unilaterally and voluntarily took a 10 per cent reduction in my salary”) to attempt to divert attention away from the real issue.

Then, there’s the fact that he leaves it until the last paragraph to apologise for the size of the expenses. It’s almost an after-thought, a “hell and damnation, I knew there was something else I meant to put into the blasted letter” moment. Dude doesn’t want to apologise because, quite frankly, the dude feels he was fully entitled to only the best as Minister for Fun. You can feel his pain rising like a soft Kerry mist from the page as he brings himself to apologise. And this apology is just to his fellow expenses junkies in Dail Eireann. Heaven knows what agony he’d undergo if he had to apologise to the tax-payers of this land who provide the cash for his japes in the first place.

As for resigning….. Yerra, stop, please. This is Ireland. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, resigning is for wimps.