Ceann Comhairle clings to job amid Dáil anger

EMBATTLED Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue is defiantly clinging to his job despite growing anger over his expenses bill and pressure from the Opposition to consider his position.

Mr O’Donoghue is likely to face further humiliation today when he endures the chair of the Dáil for the first time since details emerged of his €230,000 claims on travel, hotels, meals and constituency operations since taking up the position two years ago.

As the Green Party joined with the Opposition in calling on him to clarify the controversy surrounding his lavish use of taxpayers’ money, the Ceann Comhairle last night managed to buy some time by promising to address the issue at a meeting tomorrow evening.

He will make “detailed proposals” on a new expenses regime at the meeting of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission – a group overseeing funding of the Dáil and Seanad, chaired by Mr O’Donoghue.

“The views of the Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny TD, the Labour Party Leader Eamonn Gilmore TD and Minister John Gormley TD, leader of the Green Party will inform the proposals the Ceann Comhairle will present to the commission, the details of which are nearing completion,” the short statement said. It did not mention the views of Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who remained silent on the controversy.

Green Party leader John Gormley said if the issue is not resolved at tomorrow’s meeting, the junior coalition partners will raise it in the context of negotiations on a new Programme for Government which will conclude later this week.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny called on the Greens to “step up to the mark” and give the people an “opportunity to give a mandate to a Government to sort all this out”.

Mr Kenny said Mr O’Donoghue may have to consider his position if he does not “pay back” expense claims not directly related to his role as Ceann Comhairle. These could include up to €14,000 on flights for Mr O’Donoghue’s wife, Kate Ann, who took at least 25 internal flights between Dublin and Kerry at taxpayers’ expense and accompanied him to Paris, South Africa and the US.

Fine Gael is also demanding he “reduce substantially” his staff levels, which stands at 10, and questioned the €68,500 expenses claimed for the running of his constituency office in Kerry.

“This is about a culture that has grown here over the past 12 years where there is neither responsibility nor accountability for anything,” said Mr Kenny, who urged his party’s members on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to raise it in tomorrow’s meeting.

The two main opposition parties are not in agreement on how to address the issue, with Labour saying it should be dealt with by TDs in the Dáil, who elected him to the position of Chair. The party is considering raising the issue in the order of business when the Dáil resumes after a 12-day break today.

Party leader Eamon Gilmore said: “There is a pattern of extravagance here and it has to be dealt with.”

He is calling for a meeting of all party leaders in the Dáil to discuss the matter among themselves and with the Ceann Comhairle.

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