Mary Lou McDonald will not retract Ansbacher comments

Sinn Féin deputy leader’s comments were found to be an abuse of Dáil privilege

Mary Lou McDonald alleged last December a number of prominent individuals had links to Ansbacher offshore accounts following information released by a whistleblower. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Mary Lou McDonald alleged last December a number of prominent individuals had links to Ansbacher offshore accounts following information released by a whistleblower. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald does not intend to retract her Ansbacher comments which were found to be an abuse of Dáil privilege.

She alleged last December a number of prominent individuals had links to Ansbacher offshore accounts following information released by a whistleblower. The Oireachtas Committee on Procedures and Privileges ruled her comments were “in the nature of being defamatory” on Wednesday.

Ms McDonald said today she had exercised her Constitutional right to refer to “very serious” allegations about off-shore accounts and political obstruction.

“The source of these allegations is a briefing dossier prepared by authorised officers who are both reputable and credible,” she said.

“I set out for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in very clear terms my reasons for exercising my Dáil privilege which was in good faith and the public interest. However, I have received from them only dismissive responses.”

Ms McDonald said she had also written to Taoiseach Enda Kenny about the matter, adding that it was “inconceivable” that the Government had not moved to institute an investigation.

Four former government ministers named by Ms McDonald complained to the committee, requesting that it invoke Standing Order 59 and have the allegations withdrawn and the record of the House corrected.

Those submissions were made by former leader of the Progressive Democrats (PD) Des O’Malley, former minister for finance and EU commissioner Ray MacSharry, former minister for justice and EU commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and former PD leader and tánaiste Mary Harney.

Ms Harney was alleged by Ms McDonald to have terminated an investigation into Ansbacher accounts by an authorised officer.

The other three - Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, Mr MacSharry and Mr O’Malley - were alleged to have been holders of Ansbacher accounts. All three categorically denied this.

Earlier Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty had confirmed Ms McDonald did not intend to retract her comments.

“I think Mary-Lou has made it clear that she will not be retracting what she said on the floor of the Dáil because she believes that she was entitled to do that under the privilege afforded to her,” Mr Doherty said.

He told RTÉ’s News at One programme Ms McDonald did not make the allegations herself but had repeated allegations from a “reputable” whistleblower.

“I think that the interpretation of privilege is wrong by the committee,” he said.

He said Ms McDonald should have been offered an opportunity to address the committee. When it was pointed out to him that she had been asked, Mr Doherty said Ms McDonald could clear that up. She was abroad.

Mr Doherty said Ms McDonald believed the allegations were serious and had tried to raise them through other avenues, which were closed to her.

“This came from a reputable whistleblower and she felt the way to ensure these were thoroughly investigated was to raise this on the floor of the Dáil, which she believes that she has the right to do under privilege.”

In its report on the matter, the committee noted Ms McDonald claimed in a submission to it that her exercise of privilege had been in the public interest and met the requirements of Standing Order 59 in relation to reasonable excuse, responsible exercise, good faith and sound basis.

The committee said it was “of the view that the right to one’s good name is a fundamental right, and persons outside of the House should not be referred to in a manner which would adversely affect their good names or reputations”.