Fine Gael’s former double-jobbing TD, Dara Murphy, is refusing to have his Dáil attendance and expenses records scrutinised by a committee, despite demands by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for him to do so.
In the wake of the scandal over the former Cork North Central TD working a second job in Brussels, the Government is set to beef up ethics legislation for politicians so ex-TDs can be investigated in future.
Mr Varadkar said he had tried in recent days to persuade Mr Murphy to put his expenses and Dáil records forward for examination, and he was “annoyed” that the former Fine Gael TD had refused to do so.
One Cabinet minister also told the Irish Examiner the controversy has caused “considerable damage” to Fine Gael and has triggered enormous anger.
Mr Varadkar will now overhaul inquiry regulations for former TDs and the Dáil’s expenses regime.
“The one thing I think we need to do is make sure that we don’t have a repeat of the Dara Murphy affair,” said the Taoiseach. “What can we do about it? First of all, we can amend the Ethics and Public Office Act, so that it does apply to former members of the Oireachtas, not just current members.
“The law can apply to former office holders and former ministers. We can’t apply it to former deputies or former senators, which is definitely an anomaly in the law.”
Mr Murphy claimed expenses of €4,300 a month, despite not speaking in the Dáil for two years and while working with the European People’s Party in Brussels.
This was on top of his €94,000 salary. He has now quit his Cork North Central seat and started a €150,000 job with the EU.
Oireachtas committees and the ethics watchdog, Sipo, declined to assess Mr Murphy’s expense claims, as he is no longer accountable to those bodies.
Mr Varadkar admitted that unless Mr Murphy offers to co-operate, there is little anyone can do.
“When he resigned from the Dáil, [he] said he would agree to co-operate with a statutory inquiry,” he said.
“It seems the only way that we can have a statutory inquiry is if he refers himself to the ethics committee, or the Ethics and Public Office Act.
“I have asked him to do so. As of now, he’s not willing to do so. I’m annoyed about that, quite frankly, and a lot of people in Fine Gael are annoyed about that, too. And I’d be calling on him to reconsider that decision.”
The Government plans to change unvouched travel expenses for TDs. Currently, TDs fob in for a minimum 120 days for these, but the system is “lax and wide open” to abuse, said Mr Varadkar.
“He’ll [Mr Murphy] say he has evidence to show that he was present for more than only 120 days a year,” he said. “But if that’s the case, that’s why there should be a proper inquiry, and in order for there to be a statutory inquiry, and the only way we can do that is for him to refer himself to the ethics committee.
And despite a number of conversations in the last couple of days, as of today, he’s unwilling to do that. And that, to me, is wrong. He should change his mind.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said the controversy has harmed Fine Gael.
“Dara Murphy has done considerable damage to Fine Gael,” said Mr Creed. “There is nothing that exercises, that annoys the Fine Gael grassroots more than a lapse of standards in Fine Gael.”
“We don’t tend to wash our dirty linen in public, but, let me tell you, there is enormous angst and anger over that issue. It has damaged Fine Gael and it has caused enormous upset within the ranks of Fine Gael membership.”
Despite this, Mr Creed insisted Fine Gael would get its main message to voters about the economy when an election is called.
“That recovery, the fastest-growing economy in Europe, is vulnerable to bad management in the future,” he said.