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Former Minister Ned O'Keeffe pleads guilty to submitting false invoices


Retired deputy Ned O'Keeffe

Retired deputy Ned O'Keeffe

Retired deputy Ned O'Keeffe

FORMER Food Minister Ned O’Keeffe (72) received a seven month suspended prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to five charges of submitting false invoices to claim over €3,700 in Dail mobile phone expenses.

The former Cork East TD appeared before Cork District Court and pleaded guilty to five charges involving dates between 2002 and 2009.

Judge Leo Malone in Cork District Court fined Mr O'Keeffe €3,500 and imposed a seven month suspended prison sentence.

The court was told that the veteran politician has already repaid the entire €3,737 involved to the Exchequer.

The former minister – a father of five from Ballylough, Mitchelstown, Co Cork – pleaded guilty to all five charges which were brought under Section 26 of the Theft and Fraud Offences Act.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had ruled the matter could be dealt with at district court level if there was a guilty plea.

Judge Malone was told that the defendant co-operated fully with gardai at all stages of the investigation and that the offences were down to "sloppiness" in document submission rather than any criminality.

The former Fianna Fáil TD was entitled to some mobile phone expenses from the Dail - but required invoices for other expenses entitlements.

Cork District Court was told that false invoices were submitted over the seven year period from a Dublin motor support firm (3), a Dungarvan firm and a Fermoy electrical store.

Judge Malone was told that the investigation had weighed heavily on Mr O'Keeffe who was very "greatly burdened personally."

"He has been under a great deal of stress and strain over it," defence solicitor Frank Buttimer said.

"He is actually relieved that the matter is being dealt with today...He accepts that he is guilty and that he did something wrong."

He was also very upset over the "blemish" to his proud legacy of public service.

The charges followed a three year long probe by the National Bureau of Fraud Investigation (NBFI) into a complaint from a member of the public surrounding Dail expenses.

O’Keeffe was questioned for over 10 hours at Cobh Garda Station in Cork in April 2012 as part of the investigation.

That arrest centred on invoices submitted for mobile phones and support equipment to the Dail.

The claims arose from a general Dail scheme whereby TDs can claim up to €750 per 18 months for mobile phone equipment and supports.

The millionaire pig farmer and businessman stepped down as a TD in 2011 having opted not to contest the last General Election.

He had served for 29 years as a FF TD for Cork East, frequently proving a poll-topper in the four seat constituency.

A longstanding supporter of Charles Haughey, he served as Food Minister from 1997-2001 under former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern before having to resign amid a controversy over his business interests.

He ranked as one of the party’s most outspoken backbench TDs and was subsequently highly critical of both Mr Ahern and his successor, Brian Cowen.

He made national headlines in Christmas 2010 when he claimed that FF had disastrously lost touch with his grassroots and had fallen victim to the ‘Galway Races Tent’ syndrome.

“These are the two things (golf and racing) that FF was never, ever identified with and we have to change, get back on course and get with the people,” he said.

“What has ruined the party and let’s be absolutely straight about it is that we got into the habit of State cars, State pensions and that kind of thing – racing took over the running of the party. Golfing as well – you could never get a TD at his house because he was gone out golfing. That’s how it was,” he said.

He correctly predicted that the party faced electoral annihilation and warned that FF TDs needed to refocus on core voter issues.

“We need to stay with the people and what they want done – if you fill the potholes and get people their medical cars and houses you will be in Dail Eireann for a lifetime,” he said.

His son, Cllr Kevin O’Keeffe (FF), a member of Cork Co Council for over a decade, narrowly failed to defend his father’s seat in the 2011 General Election but has vowed to contest the next Dail election.

Ned O’Keeffe also made headlines when he backed the idea of nuclear power for Ireland while emphatically ruling out his own political comeback.

“I am home every night and I don’t have to go to half the funerals, weddings, baptisms or anniversaries. I enjoy being at home – why wouldn’t I? There aren’t half as many worries,” he added