OPPOSITION TDs are to demand answers from Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue on why he trebled the number of staff in his office which costs the taxpayer almost half a million euro a year.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said he will instruct his party’s members on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to ask the chairman, Mr O’Donoghue, to explain the significant staff increases.
Ceann Comhairle of the previous Dáil, Rory O’Hanlon, had three staff at his disposal – a private secretary, a secretarial assistant and a clerical officer – with a combined salary of €141,717.
The staff number has increased to 10 since Mr O’Donoghue took over as chair of the House in 2007, with the staff bill growing to €470,095. This includes a political adviser, with a salary of €107,791.
Mr Kenny yesterday expressed concern about the high staffing levels.
“The Ceann Comhairle himself has made it clear that his office is above politics, I think it’s necessary to see that actually applies,” he said.
“I will have the Fine Gael members on the commission raise it at the next meeting. The office of the Ceann Comhairle is an apolitical office and should be above politics. I’d like to see the practicality of that being implemented,” Mr Kenny said as he launched his party’s new Lisbon campaign billboard in Dublin.
The Commission has not met since June 24 – before controversy erupted over Mr O’Donoghue’s €550,000 expenses bill during his time as minister for arts, sports and tourism.
He attempted to draw a line under the controversy last week by issuing an apology for the excessive spending. But it is likely he will come under further pressure from Fine Gael members of the commission when it meets next month.
A statement from the Houses of the Oireachtas press office yesterday said the high staffing levels of Mr O’Donoghue’s office “may give the impression that all are employed in constituency work” for the Fianna Fáil Kerry South deputy. But it insisted “this is not the case”.
It said the staff level reflects the “constitutional importance” of the office.
“The Ceann Comhairle has the responsibility of furthering Ireland’s bilateral parliamentary relations. The office manage and arrange a wide range of meetings, courtesy call etc between the Ceann Comhairle and various international diplomatic representatives, speakers and parliamentarians from visiting Parliaments and other high level visitors to Leinster House,” it said.
The statement said Mr O’Donoghue’s staffing levels should not be compared to those of his predecessors: “The staffing in the office is tailored to the needs of each individual and no two situations are the same.”
“The current Ceann Comhairle has been particularly pro-active in promoting public interest in the National Parliament and has had considerable success in this regard. Equally, as Chairman of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, the Ceann Comhairle has been involved in a work programme intended to bring our national Parliament to a level comparable to other European Parliaments,” it said.
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