His speech reeked of a sense of entitlement that appears to have polluted parliament to a massive degree. The anecdotal evidence that Fine Gaelers are amongst the deputies giving Labour TDs the cold shoulder following Eamon Gilmore’s intervention last week speaks volumes. I suspect this abuse of the expenses system is not solely a Fianna Fáil problem, they just happen to have been in Government the last eleven years.
In his address Junket Johnny reminded us of the various ways he’d been hard-done-by by the the meeja and d’Opposition.
“When the public mood changed… I attempted to put my case to the appropriate body, established by the House for oversight of expenditure, the Oireachtas Commission. I was denied that opportunity by some members of this house who decided to act without giving me a hearing.”
Firstly, the Oireachtas Commission is not responsible for oversight of his expenses, the Dáil clerk does that job. Oddly, the Ceann Chomhairle is the man in charge of the Dáil clerk, so he’d hardly be the best man judge to Junket Johnny.
Secondly, the Oireachtas Commission sits in private and it is made up of TDs and senators, who hardly have the moral authority to rule in this situation. Asking for a closed court, which publishes no transcripts, on a matter of such interest to the public, was ridiculous and demeaning.
And thirdly, John O’Donoghue had months to speak on this issue publicly and refused to. Clearly, he was in avoidance mode – his excuse that his position was above politics held no water. Even when he was doorstepped in Listowel by RTÉ he barely recognised how ridiculous his expenses were seen to be by the general public.
The man formerly known as ‘Zero’ (for his zero tolerance stance on crime against the common man while justice minister, oh the irony) then spoke about the distortion of the truth around his expenses.
I loved two parts in particular. “While I was Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism I was on 14 international flights on the Government jet over a five-year period” he said. He failed to mention that in the two years he was Ceann Chomhairle he charged the taxpayers for 186 internal flights. 44 of which were taken by his wife.
Similarly, while he claimed the cost of his hotel rooms in Cannes and Venice were wrongly reported, he didn’t mention the €250 spent on water taxis in Venice or that he spent €492 on room service and dining in one night on another trip. His defense was selective because he was trying to defend the indefensible.
Over all, it’s clear John O’Donoghue’s head is still buried in the sand, like that of many of his Dáil colleagues. Nobody believes he was, or is, value for money. Nobody believes he “volunteered” his expenses – on the day before the Lisbon result, three hours after they were released to Ken Foxe of The Sunday Tribune, at the cost of €600. The revelations about John O’Donoghue will not end here. He remains in public office. His expenses remain unvouched.
“Everything was within the guidelines. I gained no enrichment from this”, he said. ‘Enrichment’ is word that does not relate solely to monetary gain, I suspect he did not suffer, or become overworked, when attending some of the most extravagant race meetings the world over. And he may have acted within the guidelines, but that does not make his expense level justifiable, he was supposed to be ‘value for money’.
Opacity breeds distrust, distrust breeds cynicism. Public cynicism burns through the social contract. If trust in the political process is not restored through more transparent governance, we’re in serious trouble.