Sunday 18 November 2018

Minister defends O'Donoghue's €472 limo for three-minute trip

Michael Brennan, Political Correspondent

JUNIOR Minister Conor Lenihan yesterday defended Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue as the "last person in the world" who would engage in lavish spending.

It comes after the latest revelation that Mr O'Donoghue spent €472 on a limousine to take him from Terminal Three in London's Heathrow Airport to Terminal One for a connecting flight -- a journey which would have taken three minutes on the airport's free shuttle service.

Mr O'Donoghue has stayed silent despite the publicity about the €1,400-per day he spent on hiring a limousine driver during his five-day visit to the Cheltenham racing festival in 2007. He ran up a travel bill of €126,000 over two years with his entourage while he was Arts, Sports and Tourism minister.

But Mr Lenihan said that Mr O'Donoghue was the last person in the world who would lavish himself on his travels. "He's not the kind of man who takes an interest in that kind of stuff. He just goes from A to B and does his job,." he said.

Mr Lenihan highlighted the fact that state officials had made the arrangements for Mr O'Donoghue's foreign trips.

"At the end of the day, John O'Donoghue had no hand, act or part in making those reservations. I'm not blaming the civil servants," he said.

Mr Lenihan, who is junior minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, said there were new value-for-money guidelines in place from the Department of Finance to change the culture regarding spending on foreign travel. But he said he was not going to call on Mr O'Donoghue to break his month-long silence on the revelations because of his position as Ceann Comhairle.

"I wouldn't put him under pressure because he does occupy a very significant role in our system where he is meant to be above and free of day-to-day allegations," he told RTE radio.

Fine Gael environment spokesman Phil Hogan criticised the spending on overseas travel by Mr O'Donoghue.

"You cannot justify the type of lavish arrangements that were made. When times were good, people overlooked all these things, but you cannot excuse them," he said.

Mr O'Donoghue could not be contacted for comment yesterday. He was brought by limousine from Heathrow's Terminal Three to Terminal One on January 24, 2006 when he and his wife were arriving back from an official trip to India. They were transferred between terminals because they had a connecting flight back to Dublin.

The Mayo-born businessman whose Cartel car hire company provided the limousine was Terry Gallagher. His father Denis was a Fianna Fail minister for the Gaeltacht.

But he told the Sunday Tribune newspaper there was no "old boys club" going on.

"We are probably the foremost supplier of car services in London. My connections might have been of some use to start with but it's all about getting up in the morning and doing your job," he said.

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