This is my analysis of John O Donoghue’s letter regarding his enormous expenses claims as he travelled the globe with his entourage, eating in the world’s most expensive restaurants, hiring limousines to transfer him between one terminal of an airport and another, taking water taxis from Venice airport to the old city, flying from the Cannes Film festival to the Heineken Cup and back again and keeping taxis on 24-hour call in case he needed them at the Cheltenham festival.
After enormous pressure, the Bull produced this piece of waffle to his fellow elected members, and I have taken the trouble to go through it paragraph by paragraph, testing for relevancy as I go.
Because I take this job seriously, and I want to spare you the pain.
(That bit is a lie. I just like it).
Here’s John’s letter:
Dear [insert name]
I am writing to you and to our other colleagues in the Dáil in the context of recent extensive media coverage concerning costs incurred by me as an office holder.
Much of that coverage has also included strong criticism of my decision not to make any public comment or statement on these matters.
When you elected me in 2007 to the position of Ceann Comhairle, I was chosen, as a member of a “House of public representatives” (as the Constitution describes Dáil Éireann) on the basis that I would be an impartial Chairman of Dáil Éireann holding office under the Constitution.
The importance of having an impartial Chairman of Dáil Éireann who stands back from matters of public and party controversy is reflected in the Constitution itself in the form of provision for automatic re-election. One of my predecessors, in September, 1994, ruled that “the Ceann Comhairle is the neutral officer in the House who is impartial and should be seen to be above politics and controversy”.
Save from making representations in my capacity as a public representative and from forwarding representations made to me to office holders (whose function it is to deal with those representations), I have carefully refrained from becoming involved in party or national controversy. This has been the position since my election as Ceann Comhairle and is in accordance with the well established tradition of my predecessors.
For these reasons, it simply would not be proper, however tempting, for me, whether inside the House or outside the House, to become involved in public debate concerning my previous roles as Minister. Nor would it be proper for me to become involved in matters of public controversy concerning Departments for which, as Minister, I have had previous accountability to Dáil Éireann.
The Department of Arts, Tourism and Sport issued a statement in response to the media comment and criticisms which have been recently published. I do not propose to add to it or to comment on it and enclose a copy for your information.
I want to reassure you that I have at all times acted in good faith and with probity. As Members who have been office holders will be aware the incurring of costs by Ministers and office holders is a standard and common feature of holding such offices.
This has been the case for decades. Such costs are incurred and paid in compliance with a statutory framework.
The provision of underlying services is arranged, organized and audited, on their behalf, in accordance with well established procedures that include independent arrangements in respect of the review of and accountability for those costs.
Moreover, and most importantly, all of these costs are paid, not to the Minister or office holder, but to the service provider.
Travel Expenditure as Ceann Comhairle
As regards recent media comment and criticism of travel undertaken by me as Ceann Comhairle, I would ask you to bear in mind the following.
It has, as you know, long been recognised that the Ceann Comhairle, as Chairman of Dáil Éireann, is the main representative of the Oireachtas, our parliament, in the outside world and in its relations with other parliamentary institutions.
Foreign travel undertaken from the Houses of the Oireachtas by the Ceann Comhairle is either in response to an official invitation as Ceann Comhairle or in his capacity as Chairman of the Irish Parliamentary Association and as part of Ireland’s obligations to be present at and to take part in Inter Parliamentary Union events.
Ireland has been a member of the Inter Parliamentary Union since 1928. The Ceann Comhairle has represented the Houses of the Oireachtas and led Inter Parliamentary delegations at foreign events since then.
It is standard practice throughout the Inter Parliamentary Union that the speaker of a parliament is treated with the same level of courtesy as a Minister of Government. Items of expenditure including use of lounges, courtesy cars or security are the customary courtesies that we provide whenever we host an incoming parliamentary delegation to Ireland.
When the Ceann Comhairle travels abroad, the arrangements are made in keeping with whatever is recommended by the hosts, giving due regard to criteria such as security and proximity to the venues for conferences or meetings.
You will be well aware of the issue of reform in respect of parliamentary costs which is of ever greater importance in the current economic climate as everyone in the House fully appreciates.
In particular, you will be aware that I have been at the forefront of efforts by colleagues to reform our procedures, particularly in relation to costs. In that regard, all aspects (and I emphasise all) of costs are being examined on an ongoing basis.
Earlier this year, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, of which I am Chairman, produced a set of proposals which will result in an overall saving of up to €4 million in the running of the Oireachtas and outlined an initiative to reform members’ costs by introducing a single all-encompassing allowance. This is to be verified by members’ attendance, with deductions for non-attendance.
Given the State’s current financial situation, I believe we all share in common the view that as Public Representatives, we should give a lead in ensuring that greater transparency and economy are achieved.
I had not intended to draw any attention to the fact that I unilaterally and voluntarily took a 10% reduction in my salary since October, 2008. But I feel that you should be aware of it in the context of the recent media coverage to which I have referred.
As Ceann Comhairle, I have dedicated myself to achieving efficiency in the running of our modern democratic institutions and to doing so in a transparent and open way. This is designed to enhance public confidence in the democratic system and to increase public trust for parliament, politics and politicians.
As I have mentioned, the nature of the position of Ceann Comhairle as impartial Chairman of Dáil Éireann under the Constitution prevents me from becoming embroiled in public controversy in the media or on the floor of the House.
This is why I am writing to you personally to assure you that, despite these constraints and the natural desire to cross swords with critics in my own defence, I intend to uphold the very high standards rightly expected of the holder of the office of Ceann Comhairle. I will therefore refrain from becoming involved in public debate and public controversy in my own defence in response to the recent media comment and criticism concerning me.
I intend to work with you and all of my colleagues, in a dedicated and impartial way, to pursue reform and efficiency in the functioning of our democracy and, in particular, our parliamentary institutions.
I assure you that I will at all times endeavour to act in good faith and with probity as I have always sought to do in the past.
Finally on a personal level, I wish to acknowledge that some of the costs incurred appear high. I sincerely regret, in so far as I am concerned, that some of these high costs occurred, although a Minister or an office-holder would not be apprised of such expenditure at this level of detail either on an ongoing basis or at all in fact. It has to be borne in mind also that while some costs of the arrangements appear high and have caused disquiet, they were legitimate and in accordance with the Department of Finance guidelines.
In considering the extent of the costs, I am of course concerned but equally determined to ensure that, in future, such costs are reduced to the minimum and most reasonable level attainable. We all learn from the events of the past and I commit myself to ensuring that this costs level does not recur in so far as I am concerned.
John O’Donoghue T.D.
Ceann Comhairle (Relevant)
What an achievement. Six pages of a letter saying absolutely nothing.
Gavin has the full details of the Bull’s wansderings here. Readthe whole lot. You’ll be up all night but it’ll be worth it.
16th September 2009
The Bull has issued a new statement:
Statement by Ceann Comhairle – John O’Donoghue, TD
Two days ago Members of Dáil Éireann received a letter from me in relation to costs incurred by me as an office holder. As some Members have raised concerns about the matters addressed in that letter, I think it is appropriate that, today, I re-emphasise and clarify points intended to have been communicated by that letter. Before so doing, I want to make one observation.
In the debate about Ministerial costs, context is everything. Some Ministers will incur greater costs than others by virtue of the nature of their portfolio. That is an unavoidable fact of life. But such costs are not incurred without controls. There is a statutory framework within which costs are incurred, paid and audited.
There are a number of fundamental propositions that need to be repeated. They are as follows:
(1) The provision of services, hotel accommodation, car hire and so forth were arranged, in accordance with standard procedures.
(2) The costs are paid by the relevant Departments, having been reviewed by officials in the Departments.
(3) The accounts of Departments (including expenditure such as these costs) are the subject of an annual audit.
(4) At no stage during my tenure of office as Minister were any of these costs challenged as being in any way improper.
(5) All of the costs so incurred and paid were in compliance with the Department of Finance guidelines.
(6) I made no financial profit from the incurring and defraying of these costs to third parties.
I lived like a king and toured the world with the missus at public epense, but I got no cash out of it.
(7) The costs were legitimately incurred and paid to service providers.
What do you expect? Any half-decent hotel is going to cost €900 a night. That’s reality.
When I expressed sincere regret in my letter of explanation to Members I meant it and I can assure Members that I have no difficulty in expressing my regret and saying I am sorry.
I’m sick at being found out.
Regret and apology
I was not aware of the cost of these arrangements
Translation: I’m blind
and when I read the detail in the past weeks I was embarrassed that such costs were associated with some of the arrangements made on my behalf.
Shit. I got caught
I sincerely regret that, although on official duty, such considerable costs were incurred. I apologise for this.
Shit shit shit, I got caught!
I fully appreciate how the very considerable cost of executing the office of Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, and indeed any ministerial office, during those years now being commented on is very substantial against today’s backdrop.
It would be all right to take a limousine from one part of an airport to another if the money was still rolling in
This is so particularly when many more people are facing serious financial difficulties. Moreover, I can fully understand how many people were shocked to read some of the detail. I apologise to these people, in particular, for the disquiet this controversy has caused.
Shit shit shit shit shit!!!
I sincerely regret that I did not pay more attention to the cost of the arrangements provided for me. I was fully focused on my duties as an office holder at the time and would not be concerned with this level of detail.
I didn’t realise that the most expensive restaurant in the world would be dear
I am sorry that these costs occurred.
As I indicated in my letter I fully intend with the cooperation of Members to further the case made to the Minister for Finance (who has responsibility in the area of Members expenses) with renewed vigour, to pursue reforms and efficiencies in this area.
To avoid any recurrence of the justified public disquiet, and to avoid controversy and embarrassment arising from excessive expenditure on costs, I have asked the relevant officials in the Oireachtas, as a matter of urgency, to review procedures in order to ensure that such expenditure is strictly controlled and that there is an appropriate emphasis on economy in relation to the Office of the Ceann Comhairle in the future.
Today I have instructed officials in the Ceann Comhairle’s office to place in the Dáil Library – as soon as practicable – the records of all travel, accommodation and related cost incurred and paid since I was elected Ceann Comhairle.
I hope that my statement today will enable Members of the Dáil to concentrate on more pressing issues facing the State.