Sunday 11 December 2016

Clinton was kept in loop on expenses scandals

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

Published 01/06/2011 | 08:59

US SECRETARY of State Hillary Clinton received regular briefings on domestic Irish affairs, including the series of spending and expenses scandals which rocked the Irish political establishment in recent years.

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America's top diplomat in Ireland, Ambassador Dan Rooney, kept Mrs Clinton abreast of unfolding developments in the John O'Donoghue expenses saga and also the scandal at state training agency FAS.

In a 'confidential' embassy cable following the resignation of Mr O'Donoghue as Ceann Comhairle, Ambassador Rooney said the controversy highlighted "growing dissatisfaction with an often unaccountable political class and the perks it allows itself".

The dispatch is one of a series of cables obtained by the Irish Independent which illustrate how the US government kept close tabs on various unfolding political dramas in Ireland over the past decade.

Mr Rooney said the O'Donoghue resignation, coupled with the FAS affair, was "a sign of the continuing vulnerability of an unpopular government".

Mr O'Donoghue stepped down in October 2009 following months of revelations about lavish spending on foreign trips and other extravagant expenses during his time as Arts, Sport and Tourism Minister between 2002 and 2007.

The Kerry South TD would subsequently lose his Dail seat in the general election.

In a dispatch marked 'confidential' and written by the ambassador on October 7, 2009, he told Mrs Clinton's office how Mr O'Donoghue had been "under increasing fire" for several weeks.

However, he said it was still a surprise when Labour leader Eamon Gilmore confronted Mr O'Donoghue in the Dail and called for his resignation.

The ambassador said Mr Gilmore's move had "captured the public mood and outflanked its much stronger opposition colleague Fine Gael".

Fine Gael's subsequent support for Mr Gilmore's call had "quickly driven the final nail in the coffin", the ambassador said.

He also speculated the controversy might help the opposition force an early election by spring 2010.

While it would take a further year for the election to come, Mr Rooney correctly predicted that the furore would help strengthen the opposition.

IRREGULARITIES

"The resignation comes on top of the ongoing dust-up surrounding a severance package of over €1m for . . . Rody Molloy, the director general of the national training and employment authority (FAS)," he told Mrs Clinton's office.

"When he resigned in disgrace after an investigation revealed numerous financial irregularities (at FAS), Mary Coughlan, vice prime minister and Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister, granted him the generous severance package."

The ambassador said Ms Coughlan and the then Taoiseach Brian Cowen had claimed such a package was justified and was also standard practice.

But the ambassador noted that media and opposition TDs believed the affair was typical of the "government irresponsibly wasting taxpayers' money".

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