Statement by Ceann Comhairle - John O'Donoghue, TD
Two days ago Members of Dáil Éireann received a letter from me in relation to costs incurred by me as an office holder. As some Members have raised concerns about the matters addressed in that letter, I think it is appropriate that, today, I re-emphasise and clarify points intended to have been communicated by that letter. Before so doing, I want to make one observation.
In the debate about Ministerial costs, context is everything. Some Ministers will incur greater costs than others by virtue of the nature of their portfolio. That is an unavoidable fact of life. But such costs are not incurred without controls. There is a statutory framework within which costs are incurred, paid and audited. There are a number of fundamental propositions that need to be repeated. They are as follows:
(1) The provision of services, hotel accommodation, car hire and so forth were arranged, in accordance with standard procedures.
(2) The costs are paid by the relevant Departments, having been reviewed by officials in the Departments.
(3) The accounts of Departments (including expenditure such as these costs) are the subject of an annual audit.
(4) At no stage during my tenure of office as Minister were any of these costs challenged as being in any way improper.
(5) All of the costs so incurred and paid were in compliance with the Department of Finance guidelines.
(6) I made no financial profit from the incurring and defraying of these costs to third parties.
(7) The costs were legitimately incurred and paid to service providers.
When I expressed sincere regret in my letter of explanation to Members I meant it and I can assure Members that I have no difficulty in expressing my regret and saying I am sorry.
Regret and apology
I was not aware of the cost of these arrangements and when I read the detail in the past weeks I was embarrassed that such costs were associated with some of the arrangements made on my behalf. I sincerely regret that, although on official duty, such considerable costs were incurred. I apologise for this. I fully appreciate how the very considerable cost of executing the office of Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, and indeed any ministerial office, during those years now being commented on is very substantial against today's backdrop. This is so particularly when many more people are facing serious financial difficulties. Moreover, I can fully understand how many people were shocked to read some of the detail. I apologise to these people, in particular, for the disquiet this controversy has caused.
I sincerely regret that I did not pay more attention to the cost of the arrangements provided for me. I was fully focused on my duties as an office holder at the time and would not be concerned with this level of detail.
I am sorry that these costs occurred. As I indicated in my letter I fully intend with the cooperation of Members to further the case made to the Minister for Finance (who has responsibility in the area of Members expenses) with renewed vigour, to pursue reforms and efficiencies in this area.
To avoid any recurrence of the justified public disquiet, and to avoid controversy and embarrassment arising from excessive expenditure on costs, I have asked the relevant officials in the Oireachtas, as a matter of urgency, to review procedures in order to ensure that such expenditure is strictly controlled and that there is an appropriate emphasis on economy in relation to the Office of the Ceann Comhairle in the future.
Today I have instructed officials in the Ceann Comhairle's office to place in the Dáil Library - as soon as practicable - the records of all travel, accommodation and related cost incurred and paid since I was elected Ceann Comhairle.
I hope that my statement today will enable Members of the Dáil to concentrate on more pressing issues facing the State.