Saturday 25 May 2019

O'Donoghue to quit in expenses scandal

Ceann Comhairle will step down next week

Senan Molony, Michael Brennan and Fionnan Sheahan

ISOLATED Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue will resign next week after being forced out of office over revelations about his lavish expenses.

In a terse one-line statement, Mr O'Donoghue announced that he would resign his position next week when he will make a statement to the House.

His late-night announcement came after a day of high drama in the Dail which left him facing a vote of no-confidence.

Mr O'Donoghue told the Labour Party he was going to resign at 2.30pm next Tuesday.

Labour, which had slapped down the motion of no-confidence in the chair of the Dail, accepted the offer.

The choice of next week would allow Mr O'Donoghue to be returned automatically to the next Dail, should Green Party malcontents pull the plug on the Government at a special meeting on Saturday.

If the Greens opt to continue in coalition, it will be Mr O'Donoghue's replacement who will be returned automatically.

But he is still expected to enjoy a severance package of up to €90,000 over the next two years.

Last night there was no indication whether Mr O'Donoghue (53) intends to contest the next election, although he has shown no sign of resigning his Kerry South seat to force a by-election.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore had substantially escalated the pressure by telling Mr O'Donoghue his position was no longer tenable and putting forward a motion of no-confidence.

Mr Gilmore stunned the chamber into silence by telling the Ceann Comhairle that he had to go. As Mr O'Donoghue sat motionless, the Labour leader said: "A Cheann Comhairle, I regret to say this, but I consider that your position is no longer tenable.

"I think you will either have to resign or be removed from office."

A chastened Ceann Comhairle could only manage: "Thank you, deputy Gilmore."

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny later followed suit by calling on Mr O'Donoghue to resign. The Ceann Comhairle was understood to have then made arrangements for his departure, including informing his family of his decision.

Within Fianna Fail, there had been no appetite to rally around Mr O'Donoghue's cause. Likewise, the Green Party was in no mood to back the Ceann Comhairle.

Mr Cowen had asked the Green Party three times if they could support Mr O'Donoghue in a motion of no-confidence.

While Mr Gormley was not going after Mr O'Donoghue's head, he told Mr Cowen his party could not back the Ceann Comhairle.

Mr Cowen had three talks with Mr Gormley: once in the Green leader's office; once in the Taoiseach's office; and once on the phone from Mr Gormley's house.

"On each occasion John Gormley said they could not vote confidence in Mr O'Donoghue," a spokesman for the Green Party said.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan earlier told the Fianna Fail parliamentary party that Mr O'Donoghue should be allowed natural justice.

Mr O'Donoghue is expected to receive a severance package of up to €90,000 over the next two years. It would compensate him for dropping from a salary of €225,000, as Ceann Comhairle, to €100,000, as a TD, although the Department of Finance could not provide a figure last night.

He will also be entitled to a ministerial pension while sitting on the government backbenches, although its value will be cut by 25pc due to changes introduced this year.

Mr Cowen noticeably failed to declare that he had confidence in Mr O'Donoghue when pressed on the issue in the Dail yesterday. He merely insisted that the most appropriate forum to deal with the issue was the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

Mr Gilmore's dramatic Dail move forced Mr Kenny to hastily rush out and also demand Mr O'Donoghue's resignation.

But he denied that he had lacked courage in failing to raise the issue in the Dail, saying he had made his position clear on Sunday night and that he believed in giving people time to have their say.

"I felt it fair that he should have the opportunity to go before the commission. Circumstances have changed since then," Mr Kenny said.

Irish Independent

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