Sunday 25 February 2018

Deasy backs embattled McGuinness

John McGuinness and his wife Margaret
John McGuinness and his wife Margaret

Lyndsey Telford, Press Association

Fine Gael's John Deasy turned on his own part to support Fianna Fail's John McGuinness.

Claims that powerful forces are at work to oust the head of a parliamentary public spending watchdog have been backed by a Government TD.

Fine Gael's John Deasy turned on his own party to support Fianna Fail's John McGuinness, who has alleged senior figures within the civil service are plotting to remove him from the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

"People dance around these things but the reality is everybody in this room knows why or what has been driving this the last couple of weeks," Mr Deasy said.

The embattled Mr McGuinness believes senior Government officials are trying to frustrate his inquiries into the banking fiasco and other economic calamities in recent years.

Mr Deasy said he too suspects "political undertones" are at play.

He said Mr McGuinness's "combative style" had made him enemies among Government members and officials.

"I think your style and the way you handle the committee, have you gone too far in regard to the opinion of some Government members and people within the Government? I think that the answer to that question is yes," Mr Deasy said.

The Fine Gael TD has been outspoken against his party in the past and was openly critical of leader Enda Kenny before he became Taoiseach.

He claimed Government members had seized an opportunity to oust Mr McGuinness.

"Issues that were a point of contention between this committee and certain (Government) departments could be the reason why we're here asking these questions today," he said.

Mr McGuinness, who has been under pressure amid repeated reports on how money was spent while he was a junior enterprise minister, was one of the favourites to head an inquiry into the banking collapse in Ireland.

The Carlow/Kilkenny TD said that while information published about him had been obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and press queries, he believed there had been leaks too.

"I'm damn sure they are being leaked from the department," he added.

"Whether it's by FOI, whether it's by a press inquiry - they are two different things. But there is also other stuff that I'm sure has been put into the public domain by one means or another."

He said he had made some enemies during his time as chairman of the committee, but he believed his job was to ask tough questions and to be impartial in holding public individuals to account.

"I would say I believe that they believe that I have gone too far and I would say they are quite upset with me over how far I have driven the committee," he said.

Mr McGuinness vacated his seat as chair of PAC today to face a grilling of his own from members over his spending during his time in office between June 2007 and April 2009.

The Fianna Fail TD suggested department officials had leaked information as part of a campaign to have him removed as chairman of PAC.

"I think there are probably powerful forces out there that would not like to see a banking inquiry conducted and that would not like to see an inquiry into other spend in the State," Mr McGuinness said.

"They would prefer to have it lie. I don't take that view. I'm sorry I don't and maybe all of these forces are at play."

Mr McGuinness was forced to defend emails he sent to Government officials asking that his wife Margaret accompany him on trade missions to Canada and Dubai.

He was also questioned about a €22,000ministerial trip with his wife in March 2008 to Seattle.

He had to answer for overtime that was paid to his son that reportedly amounted to 30,000 euro, and the 250,000 euro office development that was ordered by the Office of Public Works (OPW).

Mr McGuinness insisted he never deliberately set out to benefit from the public purse.

He said he was not the only minister who travelled abroad on official duties with his wife and that things were different "back then".

"Looking back at it now, it was a different country then in 2007," Mr McGuinness told the committee.

"What was acceptable back then is not acceptable now and I accept that.

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