Dail has the power to penalise Mary Lou, says Des O'Malley
Fianna Fail proposes changing rules to a fine of month's salary for deputies who abuse privilege
Des O'Malley, the former Tanaiste, justice minister and PD founder, has called on the Oireachtas authorities to take action against Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald in the wake of findings that she abused the privilege of the Dail.
Mr O'Malley was one of a number of former ministers and others named by Deputy McDonald as holders of Ansbacher accounts. The Committee on Procedure and Privilege (CPP) has now found her to have abused Dail privilege but has not imposed any sanction against her.
Colleagues of the SF TD have been quoted in recent days as saying that she does not intend to withdraw the contentious remarks.
There have also been reports that some of those named have been considering taking legal action against Ms McDonald, but Mr O'Malley said yesterday, he was not one of these because he understood that he was precluded from taking such action.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent yesterday, Mr O'Malley said: "The Constitution envisages in Article 15, Section 13, that members of the Dail are not amenable to any court for their utterances in the House, but that they are amenable to the House itself. This suggests to me that the Dail has a constitutional duty to deal with an abuse of privilege of the nature that has been under discussion for some time, and it is not precluded by the Constitution from taking such steps as are necessary to make a deputy amenable to the House.
"It can therefore prescribe the penalties or sanctions that it considers appropriate for breaches of the section."
Mr O'Malley says he would now like to see either the Ceann Comhairle or the CPP look at the possibility of imposing sanctions. He did not specify what these sanctions should be, but in a previous interview, he said he felt a period of suspension from the House without pay would be appropriate.
Meanwhile, the Fianna Fail chief whip, Sean O Fearghail, has proposed a change to Dail rules which would see TDs deducted a month's salary if they are found to have abused Dail privilege.
However, he says suspension "penalises constituents rather than the guilty deputy". Fianna Fail is seeking an automatic fine of one month's salary, reviewed after 12 months and increased as appropriate.
"In this Republic, Dail Eireann holds a special place of privilege, and the deputies elected to it properly share in that privilege. However, it is increasingly clear that there are some who do not respect that special privilege and are happy to abuse it for political purposes. As they are currently constituted, Dail standing orders are based on the assumption that being found guilty of abusing privilege is a sufficient disincentive to prevent it happening. Unfortunately, that no longer appears to be the case and meaningful sanctions are now needed," Mr O Fearghail said.
Ms McDonald has also been criticised by fellow Public Accounts Committee members. Fine Gael TD Aine Collins warned: ''There is now a genuine confidence issue surrounding Ms Mc Donald remaining on the PAC. The PAC has been damaged by this politically motivated grandstanding. Our capacity to represent the interests of the citizens and the willingness of future witnesses to deal with the PAC has been compromised.''
In the Dail, Ms McDonald quoted from a report by a whistleblower who claimed named former ministers and others held secret Ansbacher accounts to evade paying taxes in Ireland. All those named have denied they held these off-shore accounts operated by Guinness Mahon bank.