Committee may decide on Wallace inquiry

 

INDEPENDENT TD Mick Wallace will find out next Wednesday whether he is to be investigated by fellow Dáil deputies over his €2.1 million settlement with the Revenue Commissioners for under-declaration of VAT.

Arrangements were being made yesterday for a meeting of the Dáil Committee on Members’ Interests next week to examine the issues surrounding Mr Wallace’s tax non-compliance. This followed a letter from Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett to the chairman of the committee, Independent TD Thomas Pringle, asking it to consider holding an investigation.

Mr Barrett made his request “in view of the grave issues raised by the admission by deputy Mick Wallace of his under-declaration of VAT payments by his construction firm and the implications this has for [democracy and] the standing of the Dáil and the members”.

Mr Barrett said the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which he chaired, had no function in the matter, whereas the members’ interests committee would appear to have the power to conduct an investigation under the legal framework provided under ethics legislation.

However, Mr Wallace may yet escape investigation by his peers, as Mr Pringle expressed doubt that his committee would have the powers to conduct an inquiry.

He said that because Mr Wallace’s under-declaration of VAT occurred in 2008-2009, before he was elected to the Dáil, it may be outside of the remit of the committee to investigate the matter.

The committee would take legal advice before deciding what to do on Wednesday, said Mr Pringle, who is Mr Wallace’s colleague in the technical group.

Fianna Fáil had earlier called for an investigation by the committee on procedures and privileges. Chief whip Seán Ó Fearghaíl said TDs had a collective responsibility to ensure they behaved in a way that encouraged public confidence in the Oireachtas.

“It is important that every member of the Oireachtas, regardless of prominence or party affiliation, be held to the same standard of probity and accountability,” he said.

Anti-corruption group Transparency International Ireland called for ethics laws to be widened so TDs and Senators would be required to submit tax clearance certificates for their companies in additional to individual filings.

Mr Wallace, who was due to leave for Poznan and the European Championships yesterday, was the subject of further criticism from his fellow members of the technical group yesterday.

Independent TD Shane Ross said he believed the best thing Mr Wallace could do was to make a statement to the Dáil to explain his position, what had happened and what he intended to do.

Waterford deputy John Halligan said his colleague should initiate payments owed to Revenue “from whatever resources he has”.

United Left Alliance deputy Joan Collins said Mr Wallace was wrong, but said members of the technical group were not in a position to demand someone’s resignation. This was disputed by the Green Party, which claimed there was nothing to stop members asking Mr Wallace to stand down from membership of the group.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said Mr Wallace’s place in the Dáil was a matter for the people of Wexford who elected him.

On RTÉ’s Today with Pat Kenny programme, Mr Higgins was asked whether it was appropriate that a self-confessed tax evader should also hold a role as a legislator. He said that what his technical group colleague had done was “off the wall, quite simply and quite straightforward”, adding if anyone got into such a difficulty with regard to tax they should go immediately to Revenue.

He rejected a suggestion from the presenter that if a similar issue had arisen in relation to a TD on the Government side of the Dáil he would be “jumping up and down” calling for a resignation.

Mr Higgins questioned whether Mr Wallace’s salary as a TD could be made liable for the tax owed in the same way an overpayment of social welfare would be deducted from a person’s weekly allowance.