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Tuesday 23 September 2014

War of words erupts over Ross's demands to PAC

DANIEL McCONNELL and JOHN DRENNAN

Published 26/01/2014 | 02:30

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10/01/2014  
Independent TD Shane Ross speaking to media on Irish Water Costs on the plinth of Leinster house, Dublin.
Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Independent TD Shane Ross

A major war of words has escalated this weekend among members of the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), many of whom hit out at the "grandstanding antics" of Independent TD Shane Ross.

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Hostilities between Mr Ross and Fine Gael TD John Deasy broke out at a private meeting of the committee last Wednesday night.

The row came after Mr Ross's demands that Rehab Group bosses be hauled up before the committee and testimony be heard from two garda whistleblowers – without clearing it first with other members.

Last night, it emerged that the committee will not hear the whistleblowers in public session next Thursday on foot of the ongoing row, but the meeting will possibly take place in private.

A senior garda also visited the PAC offices on Friday to examine files given to the committee by one whistleblower, but left them in the possession of the committee.

The committee has already been given a warning by the parliamentary legal adviser about how it is broadly carrying out its investigations and hearings.

But there is renewed anger within the committee's ranks at Mr Ross over an RTE radio interview on Friday morning in which he demanded the whistleblowers come before the committee.

The committee also failed to reach a consensus on Wednesday on whether Rehab bosses would be brought in.

Writing in today's Sunday Independent, Mr Ross blasts his colleagues for "bottling it" over Rehab.

"It was widely expected that the PAC would decide to call in Rehab last Wednesday. It didn't. It bottled it. Instead it decided to seek reports," he said.

Several Fine Gael members insisted there must be a delay to allow the committee to conduct research and decide whether they have any responsibility for Rehab.

There has also been criticism of PAC chairman John McGuinness, who, according to several members, "went too far" by saying it had agreed the two whistleblowers would appear before the committee.

"I don't remember that decision being agreed. We agreed to send them on a transcript of Thursday's meeting but no more. He went too far," said one Fine Gael member.

Members of the PAC also expressed concerns about being seen as not supporting the whistleblowers.

"From a political point of view, you don't want to send signals to genuine people that the most senior Dail Committee is not prepared to listen to them," said Fianna Fail member Sean Fleming.

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy said he was "deeply unhappy" at the manner in which the work programme of the committee has been allowed to be diverted.

"We have a serious job to do and I am deeply unhappy that our work is being allowed to be compromised," he told the Sunday Independent.

Another member who wished not to be named said: "We were becoming like a run-away train, it had to be stopped. McGuinness needs to recognise that if the PAC ends up in court facing an Abbeylara-style scenario, then political responsibility applies to him."

Another member said: "The PAC was warned we are not even genuflecting towards due process."

"This is not the PAC of Shane Ross. I'm sick of him running on RTE and making policy on the hoof. He is undermining the credibility of the committee," another committee member said.

Irish Independent

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