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Former FF minister on phone expense charge

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Retiring deputy Ned O'Keeffe,Fianna Fail deputy for Cork East arriving for the final day of the 30th.Dail at Leinster House in 2011

Retiring deputy Ned O'Keeffe,Fianna Fail deputy for Cork East arriving for the final day of the 30th.Dail at Leinster House in 2011

Retiring deputy Ned O'Keeffe,Fianna Fail deputy for Cork East arriving for the final day of the 30th.Dail at Leinster House in 2011

FORMER Food Minister Ned O'Keeffe (72) is set to appear before a district court sitting today in relation to an investigation into Dail expenses.

The expected court appearance follows a two-year-long garda probe into the expenses claims of various politicians.

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

The father of five was questioned by detectives from the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation (GBFI) about an alleged offence under Section 26 of the Criminal Justice Theft & Fraud Ammendment Act (2001).

That arrest centred on invoices submitted for mobile phones and support equipment to the Dail between 2006 and 2009.

It is understood the amount involved is between €2,000 and €3,000.

Claims

The claims arose from a general Dail scheme whereby TDs can claim up to €700 per annum for mobile phone equipment and supports.

The former minister's son, Kieran, a respected north Cork solicitor, said at the time that his father had co-operated with the garda inquiry.

"He co-operated fully with gardai and assisted them with their inquiries," he declared.

The former minister was detained for just 12 hours just over two years ago - half the maximum permissible period of 24 hours under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act.

Detectives from GBFI called to the O'Keeffe's home at Ballinlough - between Mitchelstown and Ballindangan - in April 2012.

The former TD was immediately detained and taken to Cobh Garda Station while his home was searched on foot of a warrant.

The initial investigation was launched on foot of a formal complaint from an Irish newspaper. This followed a prior complaint lodged by a member of the public over Dail expenses.

No formal Dail investigation was conducted into the matter.

Mr O'Keeffe vehemently protested his innocence when details of the original complaint were published.

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 long-standing 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.

Vow

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.

hnews@herald.ie


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