John Drennan: Mitchell will quit the Dail if censured
By-election likely to be sparked by FG inquiry
The Government is facing an unwanted by-election in Dublin South if a Fine Gael internal inquiry into its members who were criticised by the Mahon tribunal censures the respected government backbencher Olivia Mitchell or withdraws the party whip from her.
Though Ms Mitchell has not commented publicly on the inquiry, which is due to meet with her next week, sources close to her told the Sunday Independent: "Olivia will absolutely reject, to the point of going to the courts, any attempt to censure her."
The Sunday Independent has also learnt that Ms Mitchell is "incandescent with anger" over comments from party colleagues on how Fine Gael should discipline the Dublin South TD.
Ms Mitchell, who was a supporter of Richard Bruton's unsuccessful leadership heave against Enda Kenny, fears she is being used as "a stool-pigeon to cover up far greater ethical flaws within the higher echelons of the party".
Amid growing controversy over the ongoing close relationship between certain elements of Fine Gael and its corrupt former minister Michael Lowry, it is believed that Ms Mitchell also suspects Fine Gael wants to use her to solve a political problem so that it can appear righteous in the eyes of the public.
Senior figures close to the FG TD also said Ms Mitchell was "seriously considering her future in politics" if she was censured by Fine Gael.
"It is a big step but Olivia is a woman of high integrity who has done nothing more than what hundreds of other politicians engaged in at that time. She is not prepared that, in order to suit the purposes of others, she is to become the Michael Lowry of Dublin South when she has done nothing wrong."
The prospect of a by-election in the volatile Dublin South constituency is unlikely to be welcomed by the Government since this could swiftly evolve into a referendum on the faltering performance of an increasingly disliked administration.
In particular, were Labour to fare poorly, such an election could exacerbate growing tensions between the coalition partners. But, in spite of these concerns, one figure close to Ms Mitchell noted: "She is not prepared to remain in Leinster House living under a cloud."
The Mahon tribunal criticised the receipt by Ms Mitchell of £500 from lobbyist Frank Dunlop as "inappropriate". The tribunal and Frank Dunlop on no occasion claimed the "unsolicited donation" was corrupt.
Any proposed disciplinary proceedings face the added difficulty that a previous Fine Gael inquiry in 2000, headed by the respected Finlay tribunal Senior Counsel James Nugent, emphatically cleared Ms Mitchell of any wrongdoing.
In its report, the committee said that when it came to Quarryvale, it was "totally satisfied that the payment of £500" to Ms Mitchell by Frank Dunlop had "no bearing whatsoever on Ms Mitchell's vote", and noted "her co-operation with the committee was total".
The report noted that Ms Mitchell had "informed the committee in detail of all contributions which had been made to her, even those less than £500. She even referred to gifts of flowers, Mass cards, etc, which were made to her at Christmas time", and that "her anxiety to assist all inquiries led her on occasions to overstate the amounts she received (eg, she told the Flood tribunal inquiry team that the amount paid to her by Frank Dunlop in 1997 was greater than the £250 which she did in fact receive)".
The Nugent Report added that "Ms Mitchell is clearly deeply upset by innuendos or suggestions that she had ever been influenced in her voting by the financial support which she has received" and said "any such innuendos or suggestions are without merit".