Tuesday 28 February 2017

O'Donoghue 'present' in Dail despite being away

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

FORMER Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue personally requested to be officially recorded as being present in the Dail when he was actually absent due to the volcanic ash cloud crisis.

He was stranded abroad after taking a short break and did not get back in time for the return of the Dail after its Easter holidays.

The granting of his request to be marked present by Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk meant that four extra days were added to his Dail attendance record.

All TDs need to be present for more than 100 days in Leinster House this year to claim their full travel and accommodation expenses -- which in Mr O'Donoghue's case can be up to €37,000.

TDs are also understood to be very conscious of keeping their attendance records high -- because they are due to be published in full at the end of the year in a league table.

Mr O'Donoghue wrote to Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk saying he wished to apply to be marked present for the days he missed in the Dail from Monday April 19 to Thursday April 22.

"I was abroad on a short break and had made arrangements to return to Ireland on April 16, but I was unable to get a flight home because of the volcanic ash cloud," he said.

According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by RTE, Mr O'Donoghue wrote that he had made all the necessary arrangements to attend at Leinster House on each of these days.

"I trust you'll agree these were exceptional circumstances," he wrote.

Mr O'Donoghue became the first Ceann Comhairle to be forced out of office last September after controversy over his bill for constituency expenses and foreign travel.

A spokesman for Mr O'Donoghue last night said he did not wish to comment on the matter.

Request

Mr O'Donoghue was one of five politicians to have a request to be marked "present while absent" granted by Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk due to the the volcanic ash cloud.

The other politicians were Fine Gael TD James Reilly, who was doing charity work in Haiti; Fine Gael TD Jim O'Keeffe, who was visiting his daughter in Thailand; Fine Gael senator Larry Burke, who was on holidays in Spain; and Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen, who was on holidays in Portugal.

Mr Allen said last night that his request to be marked present had nothing to do with claiming expenses. He said he was already well on course to exceed the 100-day attendance threshold, which will increase to 120 days next year.

"You want to put it on the record the fact that you are missing for other reasons than just staying away," he said.

Irish Independent

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