FG group on Public Accounts Committee will not seek McGuinness removal
Majority of FG TDs on accounts committee argue chairman’s comments not a resigning issue
Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness: “Having an opinion is not in itself a sacking offence.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
The Fine Gael group on the Public Accounts Committee has indicated it will not seek the removal of the committee’s chairman John McGuinness following a number of controversies involving the Fianna Fáil TD.
The committee meets meeting tomorrow in the wake of Mr McGuinness’ defence of his claim that the State should, on occasion, pay for Ministers’ spouses to accompany them on foreign trips.
The six Fine Gael TDs form the largest grouping on the powerful committee, which acts as a watchdog for State spending, and their stance would be crucial to Mr McGuinness’s tenability. The group met late yesterday afternoon to discuss the issue, with the majority arguing strongly that while they would not agree with Mr McGuinness’s comments or position, it was not a resigning issue.
Some also took the view that it was significant that Mr McGuinness’s argument that his wife be allowed to accompany him on two trips when he was a minister of state for trade was rejected by officials and by then senior minister Micheál Martin, and that she never accompanied him on a State trip.
It is understood that those who argued this position were Kieran O’Donnell, Paul Connaughton and John Deasy. Eoghan Murphy, who is abroad this week, is believed to have held similar views. Paschal Donohoe is understood to have joined Simon Harris in alluding to problems of perception and of Mr McGuinness’s views running contrary to the position of the committee.
“The vital work that the PAC does in the public interest must continue unencumbered by unnecessary distractions,” said Mr O’Donnell.
“My main concern is the integrity of the committee and its workings. And remember: this committee is the public’s watchdog on State spending.”
Labour TD and fellow committee member Robert Dowds has said the disclosures had damaged Mr McGuinness’s chairmanship. But when asked if Mr McGuinness should consider his position, he replied: “I think he didn’t actually spend taxpayers’ money on his wife and that’s why I want to go no further than that.”
Mr Martin yesterday argued Mr McGuinness was being targeted by political opponents. The Fianna Fáil leader said he could see Fine Gael’s hand behind the spate of recent disclosures about the Kilkenny TD.
Mr McGuinness has already come under fire over the cost of refurbishing his ministerial office and for overtime of €30,000 paid to his son, who was employed on his ministerial staff when he was in the Department of Enterprise.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Mr Martin said Mr McGuinness had committed no wrongdoing other than expressing an opinion. “Having an opinion is not in itself a sacking offence,” he said.
Mr Martin was critical of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, claiming the comments he made in Rome about Mr McGuinness were unacceptable. He said the Taoiseach was introducing partisan politics into the committee, which is regarded as the most independent of all Dáil committees.