Tuesday 20 March 2018

McGuinness 'powerful forces' claim has damaged him – TDs

John McGuinness, chairman of the Dail Public Accounts Committee, arrives at Leinster House yesterday
John McGuinness, chairman of the Dail Public Accounts Committee, arrives at Leinster House yesterday

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

PUBLIC Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman John McGuinness has been told by TDs on his own committee that his position has been damaged by speculating about "powerful forces" who may be out to get him.

TDs on the PAC are now privately warning Mr McGuinness's position will come under even further pressure if he continues with his claims.

Mr McGuinness again repeated there may be people in the civil service and banking sectors who did not want him, as head of the PAC, chairing a banking inquiry.

He also said he was "damn sure" civil servants from the Department of Enterprise, where he served as a junior minister, were leaking against him.

His various claims led TDs who had previously supported his position to question his suitability to remain on as chair.

In response to a question from Fine Gael's John Deasy, Mr McGuinness claimed there may be "powerful forces" at play against him.

"Maybe all of those forces are at play, I don't know," Mr McGuinness said, but Labour's Derek Nolan said the statements called Mr McGuinness's judgment into question.

He said he did not think Mr McGuinness's position was under threat because of ministerial travel or issues like overtime claimed by the Carlow-Kilkenny TD's son when he worked as a ministerial assistant to his father.

"There was nothing done that would say that the chairman had done anything that was illegal or broken any rules, and I don't see anything therefore that would require him to vacate the chair of the PAC," Mr Nolan said, adding that the claims of people out to get Mr McGuinness were a "farce".

"This conjecture, allegations, mud throwing, has undermined this entire session. I have to say Deputy McGuinness, by engaging in it in the way you have done, you have created a greater problem for yourself and I think your judgment has to be questioned about whether you should have gone there."

Mr Deasy also alleged TDs on the PAC were being leant on by ministers, and this led Sinn Fein's Mary-Lou McDonald and Independent TD Shane Ross to demand a statement from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to say this wasn't true.

Numerous government TDs angrily rejected these claims, saying ministers had never been spoken to them about the work of the PAC, while also asserting its independence. Mr Ross also described Mr McGuinness's claim that he was being leaked against from inside the Department of Enterprise as serious, and said it must be addressed.

The Dublin South TD also said the committee – which is supposed to be above party politics – had been damagingly politicised.

Mr McGuinness also initially couldn't remember the details of a state-funded ministerial trip to London on which he took his wife, but later said he went instead of a senior minister on the overnight stay in 2008.


Mr McGuinness said his wife accompanied him on three trips paid for from the public purse, a St Patrick's Day trip to Seattle, another St Patrick's Day trip to Scotland and a separate trip to London.

He also rejected comparisons made by Fine Gael TD Simon Harris between him and former FAS chairman Rody Molloy, saying they were like "chalk and cheese".

The Carlow-Kilkenny TD said he "was challenging old ways" in arguing for the State to pay for ministerial spouses' travel, adding he was a minister six years ago and Ireland was a "different country" then.

He said a case could be made for the taxpayer paying for spouses in "exceptional" circumstances, but said it should not happen "willy-nilly". But he added: "Do I hold that opinion today? No I don't."

Mr McGuininess was also told the PAC is bigger than him, and any banking inquiry can proceed without him in the chair.

Fine Gael TD Simon Harris said Mr McGuinness had further questions to answer and must provide details on the London trip, as he promised during the hearing.

Irish Independent

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