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Saturday 20 September 2014

FF senator takes High Court case to halt expenses probe

Tim Healy

Published 07/11/2013 | 21:30

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FIANNA Fail senator Brian O Domhnaill has asked the High Court to halt an investigation by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) into alleged duplication of expenses claims.

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The action relates to an investigation concerning travel and subsistence claims made by Mr O Domhnaill between 2006 and 2007, when he was a member of Donegal County Council.

SIPO was due to begin a public session concerning the expenses matter last June, but that did not proceed after Mr O Domhnaill secured leave from the High Court days earlier to bring his challenge.

In his judicial review proceedings, Mr O Domhnaill claims that SIPO is not entitled to deal with the case on the grounds that the matter arose from an anonymous complaint by a member of the public.

Instead, he wants orders requiring the case to be heard by a commission comprising members who are bilingual and able to conduct and understand the proceedings without the assistance of an interpreter.

Unless the tribunal is bilingual, his rights as an Irish speaker will be infringed, it is claimed. He alleges he will be disadvantaged if an interpreter is necessary to translate the evidence and submissions given on his behalf in Irish. Translator evidence is not similar to direct evidence and he would be marginalised, he claimed.

The proceedings, brought against SIPO, the Minister for the Environment and the State, were conducted in Irish before Mr Justice Gerard Hogan over two days. After hearing final submissions from the sides yesterday, he reserved judgment.

In opposing the case, SIPO and the State contend the complaint being investigated relates to alleged duplication of expenses claims and the investigation is in the public interest.

SIPO said the complaint was made in a letter dated May 28, 2012, sent to it by the mayor and county manager of Donegal County Council following an investigation by the two men of a referral made to them by the ethics registrar of the council.

While acknowledging information in an anonymous letter had prompted the ethics registrar to examine matters, SIPO contends the complaint being investigated by it is not a referral of that anonymous letter by the mayor and county manager – but rather a complaint by those men arising from their view certain specified acts set out in their report may have been done by Mr O Domhnaill.

SIPO also denied that Mr O Domhnaill is entitled to orders requiring that members of the commission should be bilingual. As there is no requirement in the Constitution for judges or members of the Oireachtas to be bilingual, that requirement should not be imposed on commission members, the defendants insisted.

Irish Independent

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