Opposition: Expenses explanation falls short

Opposition: Expenses explanation falls short

Opposition parties demanded a full apology from the Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue tonight claiming his explanation of lavish expenses claims was insufficient.

Mr O’Donoghue broke his silence on controversy over chauffeur-driven limousines, the Cheltenham festival and first-class travel, claiming he accepted some of the bills appeared high.

But in his letter to Dáil colleagues, the Fianna Fáil TD said he expected to be treated with the same privilege as Government ministers at home and a visiting dignitary when abroad.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny dismissed the former Arts, Sports and Tourism Minister’s three-page explanation.

“There needs to be a fulsome statement outlining the situation regarding the expenses,” he said.

“It (the letter) was insufficient. A full explanation is required, and an apology.”

Labour’s Róisín Shortall added to the criticisms accusing Mr O’Donoghue of claiming expenses which should not have been run up.

“An honest acknowledgement that some of the expenditure was simply unjustified, an unqualified expression of regret and a forthright apology to the Irish people would have been helpful.”

The Ceann Comhairle has refused to speak publicly on the scandal after he ran up hundreds of thousands on flights, courtesy cars and functions abroad with his wife during his time as a minister.

In his letter he claimed he would not have been told how much ministerial luxuries would cost.

Mr O’Donoghue stopped short of a full and frank apology stating: “I wish to acknowledge that some of the costs incurred appear high.

“I sincerely regret, in so far as I am concerned, that some of these high costs occurred.”

He wrote that he had taken a voluntary 10% pay cut but did not want to draw attention to it – the second time the wage reduction has been put on the public record.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said new arrangements were now in place to prevent excessive spending.

Mr O’Donoghue’s letter claims he has followed the tradition of the Ceann Comhairle’s office and carefully avoided becoming involved in controversy since taking the role.

The position earns him €125,000 on top of the basic TD salary of more than €100,000.

“It simply would not be proper, however tempting, for me, whether inside the House or outside the house, to become involved in public debate concerning my previous roles as minister,” Mr O’Donoghue wrote.

“Nor would it be proper for me to become involved in matters of public controversy concerning Departments for which, as minister, I have had previous accountability to Dáil Eireann.”

He added: “I want to assure you that I have at all times acted with good faith and with probity.”

Mr O’Donoghue attempted to detach himself from the controversy by first claiming the bills were paid for under statutory rules and later saying expenses were arranged and audited by others.

Mr O’Donoghue said he was at the forefront of attempts to reform Dail spending.

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