O'Donoghue made appeal to Gilmore


DEPARTING CEANN Comhairle John O'Donoghue appealed to Eamon Gilmore not to do "anything precipitous" just hours before the Labour Party leader told him in the Dáil that his position was no longer tenable.

A memorandum prepared for Government, which has been seen by The Irish Times, also suggests that it was the Ceann Comhairle who initiated the contacts on Tuesday afternoon and that he had no knowledge that Mr Gilmore would call for his resignation during Leaders' Questions later that afternoon.

It also states that when Mr Gilmore rang him back and stated "it was not looking good" for Mr O'Donoghue, the Ceann Comhairle asked several times to be allowed put his case to the Oireachtas Commission, which was scheduled to meet last night.

"He pointed out to Deputy Gilmore that he was not asking for any special favour and was only asking for the same respect and rights as would be afforded to any citizen under the Constitution.

"He said that he was merely asking for natural justice and the right to be heard in his own defence," said the memo, which was written for the Government by a senior official.

It continues that Mr Gilmore said he would "chew on it" and would ring back.

"The conversation then ended. There were no further telephone calls," it concludes.

According to sources close to the process, Mr O'Donoghue was not at that stage aware that Mr Gilmore intended to raise the issue during Leaders' Questions.

However, for its part, the Labour Party said last night that Mr Gilmore has consistently declined to release details of the conversations he had with the Ceann Comhairle in advance of Leaders' Questions as he regarded these as private.

"I can confirm that two telephone conversations took place and that the Ceann Comhairle cannot have been in any doubt as to the seriousness with which Deputy Gilmore viewed the matter or that he intended to raise the topic in the house later that afternoon," said a spokesman.

The memo confirms it was Mr O'Donoghue who initiated the contacts and that its pretext was the Sinn Féin motion calling on the Ceann Comhairle to resign.

It states that Mr O'Donoghue contended that reports about expenses of €90,000 incurred during overseas travel was inaccurate and misleading in several respects.

"He then requested of Deputy Gilmore that rather than do anything precipitous that he would afford the Ceann Comhairle the opportunity of putting his case before the Oireachtas Commission the following evening.

Both Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan and Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea criticised the Labour Party yesterday for the manner in which it had forced the issue of Mr O'Donoghue's resignation.

Mr Lenihan, speaking on RTÉ radio, said he was "very, very disappointed" that Mr Gilmore put forward a motion of no confidence describing it as practice that was not acceptable.

"The other point I'd like to make is that the Ceann Comhairle is not in a position to defend himself. He's in the same position as a judge or the president of Ireland. You wouldn't treat a member of a trade union like that, or a worker, or there'd be a general strike.

"I don't think there was a great dignity about it, and I don't think it was a great day for Irish politics," Mr Lenihan said.