Thursday 27 July 2017

John gets a free pass to races as locals condemn witch-hunt

Barry Duggan

CEANN Comhairle John O'Donoghue took more than one gamble yesterday.

They say in parts of his native Kerry that Mr O'Donoghue always backs a winner. And hours after he released his response to the ongoing controversy over his expenses, Mr O'Donoghue appeared in public to soak up the glorious sunshine at Listowel racecourse.

Mr O'Donoghue was oblivious to the hurdles that he may yet have to clear as pressure intensified on the former Fianna Fail TD from opposition parties who have the whip out for the Kerryman.

Accompanied by his wife Kate Ann to his favourite race meet, Mr O'Donoghue is still clearly a popular man in his home county and many punters greeted the Ceann Comhairle enthusiastically in Co Kerry yesterday.

It certainly wasn't all bad news for the Ceann Comhairle who was the only politician in the country to receive free passes to Listowel racecourse.

Speaking shortly after the 3.45pm race, Mr O'Donoghue told the Irish Independent that he would "prefer not to make any further comment" after he broke his silence on the expenses issue by sending a letter to his Dail colleagues over the weekend.

Yesterday was Mr O'Donoghue's second successive day at the 151st Listowel race meet and it was clear who the bookies were backing. Well-known bookmaker Eric Browne said Mr O'Donoghue was the "best minister Kerry ever had".

"There are bankers out there who robbed the country of billions and there isn't a word about them. They're on the radio and in the papers about John O'Donoghue for peanuts and there isn't a word about those shagging bankers -- they should all be in jail," Mr Browne said.

"It's a witch-hunt after John. He's getting an awful doing. He is a great man for racing and looked after all the sports facilities in the county. We welcome him here with open arms," the bookmaker continued.

"He was the only politician that got passes from Listowel this year. There were cutbacks all over the place and no other politician got them, he got the passes in recognition for what he has done for the county. John O'Donoghue is a great man and is always first past the post," Mr Browne said.

Former Football Association of Ireland treasurer (FAI) Joe Delaney was also enjoying the races. He said recent activities of some members of the media in the expenses controversy surrounding the Ceann Comhairle were "scurrilous".

"This epitomises the power of the press without responsibility. I met John here yesterday and he is doing great. John always backs a winner," Mr Delaney said.

Fine Gael TD Jimmy Deenihan confirmed that he did not receive any free passes to the Listowel meet. The Kerry North representative said he welcomed yesterday's statement from Mr O'Donoghue.

"I said a few weeks ago that he should make a statement before the Dail resumes. If he hasn't gone far enough, I am sure the media will still be pursuing him. If there are gaps or contradictions, I am sure the media will continue to pursue him," he said.

Chairman of Listowel racecourse, Gerard Lynch, said all at the track were always delighted to see the Ceann Comhairle. "He is a great supporter of Listowel. We all have our problems, what man doesn't? We love to see John here. He is here every year and knows how to back a winner," Mr Lynch said.

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