The Ceann Comhairle yesterday admitted that some of his expenses claims on lavish travel and luxury hotel rooms “appeared high”, but that they were legitimate.
In his first public comments since the controversy emerged almost two months ago, the chairman of the Dáil and Fianna Fáil Kerry South Deputy said: “I sincerely regret the costs that were incurred in so far as they were high and paid on my account.”
Speaking at the Listowel Races, Mr O’Donoghue added: “I have also outlined that the costs concerned were audited independently and the payments themselves were in accordance with Department of Finance guidelines and were legitimate.”
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who also attended the race meeting, said the spending by Mr O’Donoghue “was an expression of the way that a party, too long in power, has been using public money to excess in some cases”.
Mr Kenny, who has not called for the resignation of the Ceann Comhairle, said: “It is as an expression of a carry on that was fast and loose with the taxpayers’ money and I should issue a full apology to the Irish taxpayer.”
He said: “Clearly there were excesses here which the Ceann Comhairle himself has referred to and this referred to a period before his appointment as Ceann Comhairle.”
In a radio interview from the Fianna Fáil party conference in Athlone, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said: “There is a new regime now in place in respect of all of that and that has been implemented by the Government and that is the correct and appropriate response.”
Minster for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said “there’s no need for a lot of what goes on to be frank” in relation to expenses.
He said: “There’s no question we’ve come from a different era to where we are now and we have to ensure that we’re cost effective in everything we do and that we actually reduce costs to a minimum.”
Mr O’Donoghue made his comments yesterday after increasing criticism from within the Fianna Fáil party about his expenses claims which included €1,400 a day on a chauffeur at the Cheltenham Races and €1,000 a night hotel suites in Venice and Rome during his five-year term as Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism.
Cork South Central TD Michael McGrath said: “It is unacceptable and I would never defend public money being spent in that manner.”
He said: “There can be no hiding place for any Government minister, any politician, any office holder, who spends public money in what is regarded as a frivolous way.”
Mayo TD Beverly Flynn, said: “There is certainly disquiet amongst members in the Fianna Fáil organisation. I think the prices and the costs involved were massive and I think they are unacceptable to people.”
Mr O’Donoghue refused to say sorry, but said: “In so far as one regrets something, I think that is an apology.”