AN overhaul of Dáil expenses was demanded last night as Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue was accused of spending taxpayers’ cash like “royalty” while he was a minister.
Green leader and Environment Minister John Gormley said a system of vouched receipts was needed to allay concern about the way public funds are being spent by deputies and ministers.
“The expenses regime for everyone in Dáil Éireann needs to be overhauled. We need transparency. I think we need some form of accountability, some form of vouched expenses,” he said.
The call came as Mr O’Donoghue released a letter to TDs in response to months of revelations over the €500,000-plus travel expenses bill he and his entourage ran up while he was Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism between 2002 and 2007.
His attempt to draw a line under the controversy, however, was savaged as not going far enough.
Fianna Fáil TD Mattie McGrath had the strongest criticism against the Ceann Comhairle’s attitude. “It is unjustifiable and he can’t justify it – behaving like a latter-day prince – travelling around the world in the government jet, it’s outrageous,” Mr McGrath told Newstalk.
Labour’s Roisín Shortall dismissed reports that Mr O’Donoghue’s constitutional status as Dáil speaker meant he could not comment on the matter publicly any further.
She said the Irish people needed to hear a full apology from him if he was to continue to command the confidence of the Dáil.
Fine Gael senator Paschal Donohoe branded Mr O’Donoghue’s travel bills a “disgusting waste of public money”.
The Ceann Comhairle was careful not to apologise for any spending on his travel arrangements in the letter to TDs, merely expressing “regret”.
“I sincerely regret, in so far as I am concerned, that some of these high costs occurred, although a minister or an office-holder would not be apprised of such expenditure at this level of detail either on an ongoing basis or in fact at all. It has to be borne in mind also that while some costs of the arrangements appear high and have caused disquiet, there were legitimate and in accordance with the Department of Finance guidelines,” he said.
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