Wednesday 21 February 2018

PAC will ask chairman to explain his position

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

EMBATTLED Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness faces a crucial meeting at his own committee as TDs say he has questions to answer over his claims the State should pay for ministerial spouses to travel abroad in some cases.

All members of the PAC, apart from his Fianna Fail party colleagues, say Mr McGuinness has questions to answer about the revelations in the Irish Independent.

They say they expect him to answer questions at the weekly PAC meeting tomorrow, at which Matthew Elderfield, the deputy governor of the Central Bank, is due to appear.

There was speculation last night of a snap meeting, but this is unlikely.

The Fine Gael members of the committee held their own meeting yesterday, and committee vice-chair Kieran O'Donnell, a party TD for Limerick City, said afterwards they were worried about the integrity of committee.

Mr O'Donnell said the PAC was crucial to examining how public money is spent, adding "to this end" the Fine Gael members expected a "fully comprehensive" statement from Mr McGuinness.

He said the public had to have confidence in the PAC to do its job properly.

Dublin Central TD Paschal Donohoe said: "The continuous controversy in relation to Deputy McGuinness is now damaging the ability of our committee to work properly."

Independent TD Shane Ross – another PAC member who fought with Mr McGuinness for the chairmanship of the committee – asked that Mr McGuinness temporarily step aside while the committee deals with the issue.

Mr McGuinness already did this once when the committee examined the cost of his ministerial office.

The PAC can table a motion of no confidence in Mr McGuinness but it must give four days' notice of this.

"I have put a formal request to the clerk of the committee that the PAC chairman should vacate the chair at the next meeting to answer questions about ministers travelling with spouses at the taxpayers' expense," Mr Ross, a TD for Dublin South, said.

The three Labour TDs on the committee – Derek Nolan, Ged Nash and Robert Dowds – declined to criticise Mr McGuinness. In a joint statement, they said: "Due to a longstanding tradition, the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee is the choice of the leader of the main opposition party. Therefore, any decision on this matter falls to Micheal Martin."

This came after Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin said Mr McGuinness's position is a matter for the committee members themselves.

Mr Howlin said: "It's very important committee of the house and it's a matter for the committee itself.

"He has a very important role to play. That committee is probably the foremost committee of the house and we are giving further powers to committees under the legislation I am bringing in now."

Fianna Fail's Sean Fleming said he had confidence in Mr McGuinness but Sinn Fein's Mary-Lou McDonald said he "undoubtedly has questions to answer and he must do so at the next PAC meeting".

But she added: "Given Fianna Fail's record in Government, I did not support Deputy McGuinness's candidacy for the PAC Chair in 2011. Since taking up his position on the Public Accounts Committee John McGuinness has proven himself to be both fair and impartial."

Irish Independent

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