CEANN COMHAIRLE John O’Donoghue has announced he will resign next week after Labour ended his slim chances of survival on a dramatic day in the Dáil by claiming his position was no longer tenable.
Eamon Gilmore’s intervention kick-started a chain of events which left Mr O’Donoghue with no option but to go.
Hours of feverish speculation around Leinster House ended shortly after 10pm last night when Mr O’Donoghue issued a short statement confirming his intention to step down.
“The Ceann Comhairle has announced that he will resign his position next week when he will make a statement to the House,” the statement from the Oireachtas said.
In doing so, Mr O’Donoghue creates an unwelcome piece of history by being the first Ceann Comhairle effectively forced from office. Only one other Ceann Comhairle, Patrick Hogan, has previously resigned from office according to the Oireachtas, and that was on health grounds in 1967.
Mr O’Donoghue had hoped to remain on in his post by offering an explanation of his controversial travel bills and expenses to a meeting of the commission that runs Leinster House today.
He had pledged to give “detailed proposals” at that meeting, which was taken as a sign he would offer to pay back some of the expenses incurred in return for remaining in the job.
But those hopes were dashed around 4.30pm yesterday when Labour leader Eamon Gilmore told the Dáil Mr O’Donoghue would have to go or face a motion of no confidence tabled by Labour.
Mr O’Donoghue’s expression remained impassive as Mr Gilmore turned to him and said: “Ceann Comhairle, I regret to say this but I consider your position is no longer tenable. I think you will either have to resign or I think you will have to be removed from office.”
Taoiseach Brian Cowen criticised the manner in which the issue was raised by Mr Gilmore – but significantly did not express his confidence in Mr O’Donoghue.
Mr Gilmore later revealed he had privately told Mr O’Donoghue of his intention to raise the issue in the Dáil.
“This was something I found very difficult to do. It’s a sad day,” he said.
Within two hours of his intervention, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny joined in the call for the Ceann Comhairle to “resign forthwith”. Mr Kenny insisted he had not “lacked any bottle” by allowing the Labour Party to take the lead on the issue.
Fine Gael had originally proposed to allow Mr O’Donoghue go before the Oireachtas commission and offer his explanation as intended.
But Labour’s action made that route all but an impossibility for Mr O’Donoghue.
As the evening wore on last night, the Taoiseach and Green Party leader John Gormley met twice to discuss the crisis. As they spoke, the whips of the Government and opposition parties were also in contact in a bid to resolve the issue.
After it was made clear by the opposition that an immediate announcement was necessary, Mr O’Donoghue finally released the statement confirming he would go.
His resignation will end months of controversy surrounding Mr O’Donoghue’s expenses which amounted to €550,000 during his period as Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism and €230,000 during his first two years as Ceann Comhairle.
Mr Gilmore said last night: “I believe John O’Donoghue has done a very good job and a very fair job as Ceann Comhairle and I wish it had been possible to do it differently.”
Sinn Féin claimed it had pushed the Labour Party into its decision. Sinn Féin’s Dáil leader Caoimhghín O Caoláin had called for Mr O’Donoghue’s resignation yesterday morning but because of the party’s limited number of TDs, was unable under Dáil procedure to raise the matter in the House.
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