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It has cost almost €300k to investigate this senator's €2k expense claims

Legal and translation fees connected with the case have added up to a significant amount.

Brian Ó Domhnaill
Brian Ó Domhnaill

THE STANDARDS IN Public Office (Sipo) Commission has spent almost €300,000 in its investigation into alleged duplication of expenses by a Fianna Fáil senator when he was a member of Donegal County Council (DCC).

The expenses in question were claimed by Brian Ó Domhnaill between 2006 and 2007, and are thought to be in the region of €2,000.

Documents released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act show that over €285,400 has been spent on legal and translation fees, as well as court costs.

Back in May, a public hearing of Sipo heard Ó Domhnaill claimed travel and subsistence expenses from DCC for three meetings he attended in March, April and May 2006.

He claimed travel and subsistence expenses from Údarás na Gaeltachta (Ú na G) for meetings taking place in other locations on the same dates. Ó Domhnaill denied any wrongdoing and said he filled out his expense claims “as honestly as he could”.

As of 10 May, Sipo received invoices from law firm A&L Goodbody topping €156,000.

The commission has also spent over €12,800 on translation services from Snasta.

Sipo’s senior counsel Lúan Ó Braonáin has submitted invoices for over €67,000. In total, almost €115,000 – including Ó Braonáin’s fee – has been paid out to barristers involved in the case.

The majority of the costs relate to High Court and Court of Appeal hearings connected to the case. Sipo won its claim for costs so the majority of the money is expected to be returned to the exchequer.

27 Source: Sipo

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The commission met on Monday and came to a decision on the case. A report is currently being drafted by Sipo. It will then be translated into Irish and given legal approval before it can be published, meaning additional costs will be incurred. The investigation was carried out in both English and Irish at Ó Domhnaill’s request.

In May, the senator said that “great damage” has been done to his name because of the investigation, but he believes he did the right thing in leaving conferences early to attend meetings in Donegal.

Ó Domhnaill, who was nominated to the Seanad by then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 2007, said that it had “cost him more” in reputational damage and monetary costs than he could have hoped to claim in expenses.

Expenses

Ó Braonáin told the hearing two months ago that Ó Domhnaill claimed expenses for attending a DCC conference in Fairways Hotel in Dundalk, Co Louth from 9-11 March 2006, as well as expenses from Ú na G for attending a Donegal Sports Partnership (DSP) meeting in Letterkenny on 10 March.

The then councillor and DSP chair claimed DCC expenses for attending an Institute of Public Administration training event in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan from 26-27 April, and Ú na G expenses for attending a DSP meeting in Letterkenny on 27 April.

The commission heard that Ó Domhnaill also claimed travel and subsistence expenses from DCC for attending a marine tourism conference in Carlingford, Co Louth from 30 May – 2 June 2006, and claimed Ú na G expenses for a DSP meeting in Dungloe, Co Donegal on 31 May.

As such, Ó Domhnaill is alleged to have breached Section 168 of the Local Government Act and the Ethics in Public Office Act.

Séamas Ó Tuathail, senior counsel for Ó Domhnaill, told the hearing the original complaint made against the senator was a “false, malicious attack”.

The complaint stemmed from a letter sent to DCC from a person who described themselves as “a concerned citizen”.

Delays

The case has been delayed on numerous occasions.

In May, Ó Braonáin recalled how a decision to hold a public hearing into the claims was made in November 2012. The first public hearing was due to take place in March 2013.

Ó Domhnaill requested more time and the hearing was pushed back to April 2013. Ó Braonáin said the senator “wanted to have his side of the case dealt with in Irish, which he was entitled to do”.

The hearing was again adjourned, this time to June 2013, to allow for the necessary translation facilities to be made available.

Ó Domhnaill then made his claim to the High Court regarding the language issues. He wanted members of the commission to be bilingual and able to conduct proceedings without the assistance of an interpreter. He argued that if this requirement could not be met his rights as an Irish speaker would be infringed.

Ó Braonáin noted that when the senator secured leave from the High Court to bring forward his challenge, the case was further delayed.

Last July, the Court of Appeal cleared the way for the investigation.

Comments are closed for legal reasons.

Update: A previous version of this article stated that the commission had spent over €25,000 on translation services from Snasta. This figure was incorrect and based on inaccurate information received by TheJournal.ie.

Read: Fianna Fáil senator says he filed expense claims “as honestly as he could”

Read: A missed opportunity for Guinness and oysters that got lost in translation

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Órla Ryan

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