Saturday 17 November 2018

O Murchu has worst record as double-job senators miss sittings

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor and Colm Kelpie

SOME double-jobbing senators are failing to turn up for work in the Seanad despite claiming their €65,000 annual salary.

An Irish Independent investigation has shown that senators are working as solicitors, lecturers, auctioneers, hospital consultants, insurance brokers and even as director of the Abbey Theatre.

There are also two senators working for opposing chocolate companies -- Fianna Fail's Mary White is a director of Lir Chocolates and Independent Senator Mary Anne O'Brien is chairperson of Lily O'Briens.

In total, 28 out of the 60 senators in the house -- almost half -- revealed they had another job in their official declaration of interests.

But the attendance records of some of these "two-job" senators are among the worst in the Upper House. Seven of them have missed more than one-in-four of all Seanad sitting days during the first half of this year.

The senator with the worst record was Fianna Fail's Labhras O Murchu, who missed 19 of the 61 Seanad sitting days in the first six months of the year -- a 69pc attendance rate.

He is the director of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, the body that promotes Irish music, song, dance and the lrish language.

Loudest

Fianna Fail Senator Brian O Domhaill missed 18 days -- a 70pc attendance rate. He is a member of the Udaras na Gaeltachta.

Independent Senator Ronan Mullen missed 17 days, giving him a 72pc attendance rate.

He works as a part-time lecturer and a freelance journalist. He is also qualified to work as a barrister in the Four Courts -- but is taking a break from this profession. Like all Independent senators in the Seanad, he is entitled to a tax-free leader's allowance of €23,000 on top of his Seanad salary and his political expenses.

Some of the double-jobbing senators have been the loudest voices against Taoiseach Enda Kenny's plan to hold a referendum to abolish the Seanad next year.

But the revelations about their double-jobbing and poor attendance will further undermine the case for keeping the Seanad.

Under the Ethics Act, all senators must declare any other job they have if they earn more than €2,600 from it during the year. They do not have to provide details of how much they earn or how many hours they work.

But there is no rule against them holding down extra jobs -- and it is made possible by the fact that the Seanad generally only sits three days a week.

Fianna Fail senator Mr O Murchu declined to reveal his salary for serving as director of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann. He claimed it was 40pc less than what he is entitled to --and that his days could begin as early as 7am and finish at midnight.

"Some of us would see it as a plus to have another activity because you're in touch with the public all the time while you're doing that," he said.

So far, the only senator with a second job to have given up the €65,000 state salary is John Crown, a consultant oncologist at St Vincent's Hospital, who is donating it to the Cancer Clinical Research Trust.

Balance

He said it had been "very difficult" to balance the two jobs -- but he had moved his weekly private clinics to the evening time, between 5pm-9pm. He has a 75pc attendance record so far this year.

Fianna Fail senator Ned O'Sullivan, who has a 79pc Seanad attendance record this year, revealed that he had retired from his long-running menswear shop in Listowel, Co Kerry last February.

"I had to make a decision and I found it very difficult to be a full time politician as I am and also to try and run a business. So in the end, I decided to retire from business," he said.

Fine Gael senator and former athlete Eamonn Coghlan said that he could not have taken a career break from his extra work in sports marketing, which he claimed accounted for about 5pc of his time each week. He has a 75pc attendance record.

"It would be impossible for me to take a break because of the demands on my time from various people looking for Eamonn Coghlan, the athlete," he said.

Many of the 28 "double-jobbing" senators contacted by the Irish Independent insist they are able to devote themselves to their Seanad work and also carry out a second job.

Around 18 of them had attendance records better than 80pc.

Fianna Fail Senator Mary White, who is a director of Lir Chocolates, has a 95pc attendance record compared with the 75pc attendance record of her business rival, Senator Mary Anne O'Brien, the chairperson of Lily O'Brien's Chocolates.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik, a law lecturer in Trinity, and Fine Gael Senator Paul Bradford, who has a farm in his native Cork, have 100pc attendance records.

Irish Independent

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