O'Donoghue 'regrets' expenses costs

 

Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue has made a statement on his controversial foreign travel arrangements and expenses bill in his previous role as a Government minister.

In a letter to TDs this morning, Mr O’Donoghue described the costs of the arrangements as “legitimate”.

However, said he would refrain from becoming involved in public debate on the matter, despite his “natural desire to cross swords with critics in my own defence”.

Towards the end of the three-page letter, the Ceann Comhairle said he wanted to acknowledge that some of the costs incurred appeared high.

“I sincerely regret, in so far as I am concerned, that some of these high costs occurred, although a Minister or an office-holder would not be apprised of such expenditure at this level of detail either on an ongoing basis or in fact at all,” he said.

“It has to be borne in mind also that while some costs of the arrangements appear high and have caused disquiet, there were legitimate and in accordance with the Department of Finance guidelines.”

Mr O’Donoghue said he was determined to ensure that such costs were reduced to a minimum in future.

"We all learn from the events of the past and I commit myself to ensuring that this costs level does not recur in so far as I am concerned."

Solicitors acting on behalf of Mr O’Donoghue wrote to the Sunday Tribunelast Friday, claiming that some of the information published in the paper on his ministerial expenses had been “totally inaccurate, misleading, exaggerated and disingenuous” and had “fundamentally misled the Irish people”.

Mr O’Donoghue was Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism from 2002 until 2007.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny today said Mr O'Donoghue's letter did not go far enough, however, and said the Ceann Comhairle should make a "fulsome apology" to the Irish people.

However, Mr Kenny stopped short of calling for Mr O'Donoghue's resignation.

"His letter does not go far enough in my view. I think he should make a fulsome apology to the Irish people for the published expenditure during his time as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism," Mr Kenny said.

Asked if he thought Mr O'Donoghue should step down, Mr Kenny said: "I'm not into doing resignations here. Fine Gael has called for a General Election for some time".

However, Mr O’Donoghue’s party colleague, Mattie McGrath TD, today accused the Ceann Comhairle of acting like "a latter-day prince" and said the spending on expenses was "unjustifiable".

He warned the extent of allowances and expenses had damaged Fianna Fáil and politics as a whole. “They were living in a different world, and I have learned it in the last two years to my disbelief,” he said.

Speaking at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting in Athlone today, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said new arrangements had been put in place over the summer in relation to ministerial expenses but he declined to criticise the level of expenses incurred by Mr O’Donoghue while he was a minister.

Mr Cowen said it the former tourism minster now held an “independent constitutional position” as Ceann Comhairle and was unprepared to “in any way detract from the job he has to do”.

“But obviously we have to make sure and we have made sure by decisions we’ve taken from last July that new arrangements are in place in relation to all these matters regarding how things are conducted when people are abroad.”