FF senator fights claim he 'fiddled' his expenses
A Fianna Fáil senator has denied breaching ethics laws by claiming expenses for attending conferences and events which took place at the same time in different parts of the country.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill told a hearing of the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) that the controversy had damaged his political life and been a heavy burden on his family.
Sipo has been investigating allegations that the Donegal senator claimed hundreds of euro in travel and subsistence expenses for attending events taking place simultaneously hundreds of kilometres apart. Mr Ó Domhnaill has denied any wrongdoing.
He claims that he criss-crossed the country, sometimes late at night, so that he could attend different events on the same date.
Lúan Ó Braonáin SC said it was alleged that Mr Ó Domhnaill contravened Section 168 of the Local Government Act 2001 by failing to maintain proper standards of integrity and conduct.
But the senator, who was recently re-elected to the Seanad, claimed that the allegations had been made maliciously.
The ethics breaches are alleged to have occurred in 2006, when Mr Ó Domhnaill was a member of both Donegal County Council and Údaras na Gaeltachta.
At a hearing conducted in both English and Irish, Mr Ó Braonáin said there were three occasions on which there "appeared to be a conflict" between expenses claimed from the council and from Údarás.
The first related to an expenses claim of €641 to the council for attending an Association of County and City Councils conference in Dundalk, which took place on March 9-11, 2006.
The hearing was told that Mr Ó Domhnaill also claimed mileage from Údarás for a 62-mile round trip from his home to attend a meeting of the Donegal Sports Partnership in Letterkenny on March 10.
The second conflict related to a €469 claim from the council for mileage and subsistence for attending a training seminar in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, on April 26 and 27, 2006. Mr O Domhnaill also entered a mileage claim to Údarás for driving from his home to a meeting of the Donegal Sports Partnership on April 27.
The third related to a claim for mileage and subsistence from the council, totalling €680, for attending a Marine Tourism Conference in Carlingford, Co Louth, which ran from May 30 to June 2, 2006.
At the same time, Mr Ó Domhnaill claimed expenses for travelling 54 miles to attend a Donegal Sports Partnership launch in Dungloe on May 31.
Mr Ó Domhnaill claimed that he left the conferences in Dundalk and Carlingford mid-way to return home for sports partnership events and to check his mail, before driving back to those conferences.
His lawyers said a mistake on a claim form was to blame for the apparent overlap involving the conference in Carrickmacross and a meeting in Donegal.
Mr Ó Domhnaill told the hearing there had been "great damage" to his name. "It is not right or just," he said.
The commission is to issue its findings at a later date.