Bell should pull out of deafness hearings - TDs

 

A small minority of TDs on the same Dail committee as Mr Michael Bell have said he should withdraw from some of its meetings due to what they regard as a conflict of interests arising from his compensation claim against the Department of Defence.

The Committee of Public Accounts will hold three meetings next week on the issue of compensation payments to soldiers for hearing damage.

The committee held a meeting late last November at which the issue of compensation payments to soldiers who had suffered hearing loss was discussed. At that meeting, Mr Bell spoke about his own hearing problems and his long Army career.

The committee will hear next week from the Army's Chief of Staff, its chief medical officer and personnel from PDFORRA, which represents 10,000 members of the Defence Forces up to the rank of sergeant.

None of Mr Bell's 11 colleagues on the Committee of Public Accounts said he ought to resign outright from the committee.

Two said he should excuse himself from hearings dealing with Army deafness compensation payments, five said they believed he should be able to attend all committee hearings as normal, including those on the Army deafness payments. Four declined to comment or they said it was a private decision for Mr Bell. They all stressed his right to take an action against the State.

Mr John Dennehy (FF) said there was a "direct conflict of interest". He did not expect Mr Bell to resign from the committee, but to withdraw from discussions with members of the Defence Forces on Army deafness compensation payments. Mr Padraig Mc Cormack (FG) did not think Mr Bell should participate in hearings concerning Army deafness payments. He should declare his interest and withdraw. ail TD for Dublin South Central, Mr Sean Ardagh (FF) said Mr Bell should have the right to attend all committee meetings. He expected him to take an "honourable stance and carry out his duties as a member of the committee to the full extent."

Ms Beverly Cooper-Flynn (FF), said Mr Bell's legal action did not affect the validity of his contribution to the committee. She would be "quite happy" if he remained on it. Mr Bernard Durkan (FG) said as long as Mr Bell declared his interest, he should be able to stay on the committee and anything he said could be read in that light.

Mr Conor Lenihan (FF) said Mr Bell had declared his interest "to all and sundry" through the media. He had no difficulty with his continuing membership of the committee. Mr Pat Rabbitte (DL) did not see how the partisan view of a deputy would be "unhelpful" to the work of the committee.

Mr Denis Foley (FF), ail TD for Kerry North, and the committee's vice-chairman, believed Mr Bell would make "the right decision in the best interest of his own position." Mr Thomas Gildea (Ind), said there appeared to be a conflict of interest, but he would have to give the matter more thought before commenting. Mr Jim Mitchell (FG) said Mr Bell had to decide which action was appropriate and he had "no doubt that he would do what was appropriate". As the committee's chairman, he had received advice that he had no role in the matter. If there were complaints against Mr Bell, they would have to be dealt with by the Committee on Members' Interests ail Eireann or the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Mr Sean Doherty (FF) ail TD for Longford-Roscommon, said he did not wish to comment.