Fines possible for abuse of privilege

TDs who abuse their legal protections by accusing named individuals of illegal acts in the Dáil may be hit with “crude” fines by the Leinster House authorities under new measures.

Fianna Fáil TD and Dáil ceann comhairle Sean Ó Fearghail has that suggested the powers may be considered after a series of politicians chose to reveal details of private citizens during debates.

Speaking to RTÉ 24 hours after Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace named two individuals and a firm he alleges are involved separately in “backhanders” and “insider” deals with Nama, Mr Ó Fearghail said it was essential elected TDs adhered to the rules of the Dáil.

And while he acknowledged the right of politicians to avail of Dáil privilege to ensure they cannot be sued for raising matters they believe are of legitimate public interest, he said the sheer number of people being named means fines may have to be considered for politicians who are found to be abusing their position.

“I have had discussions with a number of party leaders... I’m not happy, I don’t want this [naming individuals] to become the norm.

“I want matters of public interest to be raised, but I want it done in such a manner that it avoids destroying a person’s reputation where they are not in a position to defend themselves. It [fines] would seem to me to be a pretty crude instrument, but it might be effective. I’m willing to consider that. If it’s agreed I have no difficulty with that approach.”

In recent months several individuals have been named in relation to public interest matters in the Dáil, including ex-TDs accused of having Ansbacher accounts, and separately businessman Denis O’Brien, whose case was at the centre of a short-lived constitutional crisis last year.

Any beefing up of Dáil privilege rules can only be implemented if it is agreed by the Oireachtas committee on procedure and privileges, of which Mr Ó Fearghail and a number of senior politicians across the political spectrum are members.

The matter is expected to be raised by the Fianna Fáil TD in the coming months if controversial circumstances where private citizens are named in the Dáil continues.


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