All TDs warned about accepting ‘sponsored’ travel

All TDs have been warned about accepting “sponsored” travel and accommodation after concerns were raised about several Oireachtas members who visited the US recently as guests of a pro-life group.

The Dáil committee on members’ interests has written to TDs alerting them that accepting paid travel or accommodation may constitute a donation and possibly breach legislation.

Several anti-abortion TDs and senators who went to the US on an all expenses-paid trip said they will examine if they breached legislation and whether they must pay money back to the sponsors.

Concerns were raised last month by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) about 10 politicians and trips organised by a pro-life group, Family and Life, to US destinations.

The Irish Examiner has learnt that the committee on members’ interests has circulated a warning letter to TDs about donation guidelines. Under rules introduced in January, members must declare amounts received over €600 and cannot accept more than €1,000.

It is understood that the Oireachtas members who travelled have begun responding to queries about the trip from Sipo.

However, no responses have yet been received from senators Fidelma Healy Eames, Paul Bradford, and Brian Ó Domhnaill, or from TDs Terence Flanagan and Mattie McGrath.

Senator Paschal Mooney said he is seeking clarification on whether he breached rules and is willing to refund excess amounts.

John O’Mahony TD said he believed the arrangements for the trip were in line with current donations limits.

Senator Jim Walsh said the same, but is to look at his 2013 returns.

Senator Rónán Mullen said he was satisfied he broke no regulations.

Peter Mathews TD said he would respond in writing soon and that he paid for some of the trip himself.

James Bannon TD says he will also respond soon.

Meanwhile, senior sources within Fine Gael brushed off reports yesterday that party members were keen that no Dáil vote would be held on the Government’s proposed abortion legislation.

Any attempt to get the legislation passed without a vote, despite divided opinions among TDs, could be viewed as controversial, said one source.

“It might get some off the hook [voting], but we could get it from the opposition and others for chickening out of our democratic duty,” he said.

The Oireachtas health committee will meet this evening to decide on a final witness list for three days of hearings on the bill, which are due to begin this Friday.


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