Sorry the hardest word at race meet

UNDER-FIRE Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue has expressed his “sincere regret” but failed to say sorry for the lavish €550,000 expenses bill he ran up during his five years as arts, sports and tourism minister.

In his first public comments on the controversy surrounding the use of taxpayers’ money on VIP travel arrangements and luxury hotels, Mr O’Donoghue gave a qualified apology, saying: “In so far as one regrets something, I think that is an apology.”

Speaking at the Listowel Races yesterday, the Fianna Fáil TD for Kerry South said the expenses were in accordance with Department of Finance guidelines and audited independently.

These included €1,400-a-day spent on a chauffeur at the Cheltenham races, €1,000-a-night hotel suites in Paris, €250 for water taxis in Venice and €120 for hat hire. “With the benefit of hindsight, it appeared to me that some of the costs are high and I sincerely regret it,” he said.

Mr O’Donoghue said he made his position clear in a letter to all Dáil deputies on Monday, almost two months after the controversy emerged.

“I explained to members of the House, to my peers that, yes, it is my view, that in so far as the costs were high, I regret it. But I also explained that these were costs, paid to service providers on my behalf. I did not go into public life to make a profit… Let me assure you that I behaved in good faith and with probity throughout.”

When asked if he felt he was being singled out, Mr O’Donoghue hesitated before saying: “I’ll let the general public make that decision.”

He returns to the Ceann Comhairle’s chair today when the Dáil resumes after a nine-and-a-half-week break.


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