Sunday 17 December 2017

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald abused parliamentary privilege over Ansbacher disclosure, committee finds

Mary Lou McDonald,Sinn Fein deputy for Dublin Central at Leinster House.Pic Tom Burke 24/3/2015
Mary Lou McDonald,Sinn Fein deputy for Dublin Central at Leinster House.Pic Tom Burke 24/3/2015
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

Sinn Fein's Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald abused her parliamentary privilege when she named six former politicians as being accused of alleged tax evasion, it has been found.

The Dail's oversight Committee on Procedures and Privileges (CPP) has concluded Ms McDonald should not have named six former politicians, who were alleged to have evaded taxes by having accounts at Ansbacher Bank.

The Dublin Central TD and Public Accounts Committee member named the former politicians on December 3rd when discussing the allegations of civil service whistleblower Gerry Ryan.

She did so in the Dail after members of PAC had been warned not to name any individuals by their legal advisor.

Ms McDonald submitted that her exercise of privilege was in the public interest, and met the requirements of Standing Order 59 in relation to reasonable excuse, responsible exercise, good faith and sound basis.

Ms McDonald replied to the committee with a three-page letter in which she argued that she was "well within her constitutional rights" to bring the allegations to the floor of the Dáil. She said this was especially so as there was no other "parliamentary channel" for her to raise them given that the PAC had decided to end its own inquiries into the matter.

The CPP's final ruling was made last week and formally notified to TDs earlier this week.

Following on from complaints from Fianna Fáil whip Sean O Fearghail and other deputies as to her actions, the CPP began an investigation the week after Deputy McDonald made her remarks.

However, the committee met again last month and ruled that "Deputy McDonald’s utterances that they were in the nature of being defamatory" and "prima facie an abuse of privilege."

The CPP wrote to Ms McDonald calling on her to formally withdraw the comments.

She replied insisting that her use of privilege was fully in line with the Dáil's own internal rules - and lambasted her colleagues for not dealing with the points raised in her defence.

Ultimately, the CPP interpreted McDonald's reply as an indication she would not be willing to withdraw the comments. and therefore issued its findings against her.

"Deputy McDonald by failing to indicate her intention to withdraw the utterances by the date specified has in effect failed to withdraw them. In light of this CPP is now reporting to Dáil Éireann its findings that Deputy McDonald’s utterances were in the nature of being defamatory, and were prima facie an abuse of privilege, having regard to the provisions of Standing Order 59," the committee found.

TDs have now formally been notified that Deputy McDonald's comments would have been defamatory if she'd made them outside the Dáil chamber.

"Finally, it is also noted that in submissions made following the utterances, Mary Harney, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Ray MacSharry and Desmond O’Malley strenuously denied the allegations. These submissions were laid before the Dáil on 11th March 2015, in accordance with a decision of' CPP," the report in the name of Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett said.

Mr Barrett and Ms McDonald have clashed several times in recent months. He asked her to leave the Dail chamber on Budget day last October.

Ms McDonald took issue with Mr Barrett's interruption describing it as “deliberately destructive”. He told her to leave the chamber after she refused to withdraw the remark.

Then, Ms McDonald forced the abandonment of the Dail for a day after she refused to leave the chamber after another run in November.

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