Senator asks for expenses probe as he quits FF party
FIANNA Fail Senator Larry Butler last night voluntarily resigned from the party's ranks and asked to have his expenses investigated.
The senator acted after it was revealed he was claiming from a house 125km from Dublin, despite having a long-term home in Dublin.
Mr Butler's move came as intense pressure was brought to bear on former minister Ivor Callely to resign from the Fianna Fail parliamentary party, pending an investigation into his €80,000 expenses from an address in Cork.
Mr Callely was the first to request an investigation into his expenses by an in-house Seanad committee.
Yesterday's Irish Independent revealed Mr Butler is claiming travel and expenses from his house in Graiguenamanagh, despite also living in Foxrock.
Being based outside of Dublin is worth €20,000 more a year to Mr Butler in travel and accommodation expenses. Mr Butler said he believed an inquiry by an in-house Seanad committee would "clear my name".
The senator insisted he had moved house and was no longer living in Dublin, but kept his house in Foxrock as his political base.
He acknowledged that keeping his Dublin address for his political activities may have given rise to the rumours which have circulated concerning expenses and allowances. "But these are ill-founded," he added. Mr Butler said the controversy was a distraction to the work of the Oireachtas, Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Fianna Fail and the country "all having more important issues to deal with".
He resigned the whip from the Fianna Fail parliamentary party immediately.
"I propose to deal with this matter with the Seanad Members Interests Committee and have confidence that the Cathaoirleach, and the Committee, will clear my name, as quickly as possible.
"This is what I consider to be the right decision at this time," he said.
Fianna Fail is now poised to remove the party whip from Mr Callely pending the result of the inquiry into his claiming of expenses from Cork.
Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe called for Mr Callely to voluntarily resign the party whip.
Rather than be forced out in a vote by Fianna Fail TDs and senators next week, the minister said Mr Callely should voluntarily resign the party whip while a formal investigation into his expenses is under way.
As the controversy dragged on for a sixth day yesterday, Mr Cowen refused to be drawn on opposition calls for Mr Callely to resign. He insisted there was now a process in place to deal with both Mr Callely's mileage expenses and those of Mr Butler.
While not commenting on the specifics of Mr Butler's case until he receives his written report, Mr Cowen has taken a tougher stance with Mr Callely.
He is moving to boot the former junior minister out of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party while an inquiry is conducted into the €80,000 worth of travel and subsistence claimed from his holiday home in west Cork.
A motion on kicking him out of the party will be voted on next week by Fianna Fail TDs and senators.
The Taoiseach also claimed he was unaware of any other TDs or senators who had questions to answer about their mileage expenses.
"I'm not aware that there are any other members involved with any such problems. This issue for me is very clear. It has to be dealt with transparently, comprehensively and fully. There is a process in place," Mr Cowen said following the opening of local development offices in Tullamore, Co Offaly.
The Taoiseach said the move to remove the party whip from Mr Callely was being done "without prejudice" to the outcome of an inquiry by the Committee for Members' Interests.
Meanwhile, another Fianna Fail senator last night hit out at "malicious" rumours being spread about him living in Dublin, while claiming expenses from Co Tipperary.
Fianna Fail Senator Labhras O Murchu said last night he stays in communal accommodation owned by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann while attending the Seanad.
"I live in Cashel. Some nights I stay in Comhaltas and I pay for it. We have 26 accommodation units there. I paid €5,000 last year for the nights I stayed there," he said. "I am absolutely meticulous and scrupulous. There is absolutely no basis for the story," he said.