A way can be found to hold an inquiry into the attendance record of former Fine Gael Cork North-Central TD Dara Murphy by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue, according to a high-ranking Cabinet colleague.
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed expressed confidence in Mr Donohue and said he knows his colleague is examining legislation to see if there is any way Mr Murphy's attendance record can be reviewed. The former TD claimed a salary of €95,000 and €51,500 in allowances between 2017 and 2019.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that Mr Murphy repeatedly refused to co-operate with an inquiry into his attendance record at Dáil Eireann between 2017 and his resignation as a TD earlier this month. And now Mr Creed has expressed his concern over the approach being taken by Mr Murphy, who remained as a TD for Cork North-Central despite taking up a job with the European People's Party in Brussels in September 2017.
“I think it is entirely regrettable that Dara seems to believe that he can just abscond to Brussels and avoid this. If there is one thing that drives Fine Gael grassroots, it is this commitment to standards in public office,” said Mr Creed.
“We will undoubtedly find a way to resolve this issue. And I know Paschal Donohue is looking at the law as it governs these matters, but it would be a lot more helpful to us if Dara Murphy co-operated with any inquiry.”
Asked if he was concerned Mr Murphy's behaviour in collecting more than €51,000 in TD allowances while working in Europe might damage Fine Gael electorally, Mr Creed was keen stress the party's approach would be guided by its values.
“The Fine Gael organisation doesn’t need any prompting from opinion polls when it comes to standards in public life and they will be pretty scathing in their intolerance for it,” he said.
“And that’s why I think it’s regrettable that Dara now finds himself fin this situation where he is not co-operating with the wishes of the organisation and also the public interest. But we will find a way to resolve it.”
Earlier, Mr Varadkar criticised Mr Murphy, who now works for European commissioner for digital economy and society Mariya Gabriel. Mr Varadkar accused him of reneging on a commitment to participate in an inquiry into his Dáil attendance.
Under current legislation, Mr Murphy cannot be made subject to an ethics investigation as he is no longer a TD but Mr Varadkar suggested Mr Murphy had reneged on a commitment to participate voluntarily.
"It seems the only way that we can have a statutory inquiry is if he [Dara Murphy] refers himself to the ethics committee, or the Ethics in Public Office Act, " said Mr Varadkar. "I have asked him to do so. As of now, he's not willing to do so. I'm annoyed about that, quite frankly, and a lot of people in Fine Gael are annoyed about that too. And I'd be calling on him to reconsider that decision."
Drawing over €145,000
Mr Murphy began working in Brussels full-time in September 2017 and despite not speaking in the Dáil for more than two years he still drew his salary of €95,000 and full allowances of €51,500.
He did so by fobbing in electronically to the Leinster House system for the required 120 days each year with the majority of these recorded attendances taking place on days when the Dáil was not sitting.
Mr Varadkar said when Mr Murphy took the job with the European People’s Party, it was on the basis that he would continue to discharge his functions as a constituency TD and parliamentarian.
He said there were several TDs who maintained second professions, but the “bare minimum” that was expected is that a Deputy represented constituents and also participated in parliament.
“You know, if Dara hasn’t done that then I think he has let us all down – those of us in Fine Gael, his constituents and the general public,” said Mr Varadkar.
He said Mr Murphy had argued privately that he had maintained his role as a TD and had been present for more votes than the Taoiseach and as many as Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and kept his constituency in Cork city open.
“He will say he has evidence to show that he was present for more than only 120 days a year but if that’s the case, that’s why there should be a proper inquiry.
“In order for there to be a statutory inquiry, the only way we can do that at the moment is for him to refer himself to the ethics committee and despite a number of conversations in the last couple of days, as of now, he is unwilling to do that. And that to me is wrong. He should change his mind.”