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It has cost over €360,000 to investigate this senator's €2,000 expense claims

Sipo has ruled that Brian Ó Domhnaill contravened ethics legislation, something he has strongly denied.

Brian Ó Domhnaill
Brian Ó Domhnaill
Image: Facebook

THE STANDARDS IN Public Office (Sipo) Commission has spent over €360,000 on its investigation into alleged duplication of expenses by a 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 believed to be in the region of €2,000.

TheJournal.ie previously revealed almost €350,000 had been spent on the ivestigation. New documents released to us under the Freedom of Information Act show that another €12,000 was spent on the investigation before Sipo released its final report last month.

As of mid-December, almost €362,000 had been spent on the case, including legal fees and translation costs.

Last month, Sipo ruled that Ó Domhnaill had contravened ethics legislation. A report published on 15 December stated:

The Standards Commission has found that Senator Ó Domhnaill contravened ethics legislation when, as a councillor, he submitted claims for travelling and subsistence expenses from two separate bodies for the same dates.

“The investigation concerned nine alleged contraventions of ethics legislation, which arise from three sets of circumstances. The Standards Commission found against Senator Ó Domhnaill in regard to each of the alleged contraventions.”

Following the report, Ó Domhnaill stepped down from the Fianna Fáil party but remained on as an independent senator.

He has always denied any wrongdoing and categorically refused to accept Sipo’s findings, saying he plans to challenge the decision in the High Court.

Most 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.

Sipo’s senior counsel Lúan Ó Braonáin has submitted invoices for almost €90,000. Tens of thousands more have been paid out to barristers involved in the case for research, consultation and proofreading.

The commission has also spent over €14,000 on translation services from Snasta.

Additional translation and stenography fees were incurred, as were food expenses totalling over €330 on the day of the public hearing on 9 May 2016.

At the time of publication, Ó Domhnaill had not responded to a request for comment.

‘Great damage’ to his reputation 

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

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

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.

In 2016, he was re-elected to the Seanad’s Agricultural Panel.

‘False, malicious attack’

Ó Braonáin told the hearing in May 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”.

Language issues

In May, Ó Braonáin recalled how the public hearing into the case was delayed on numerous occasions since 2012.

Ó Braonáin said Ó Domhnaill “wanted to have his side of the case dealt with in Irish, which he was entitled to do”.

The senator made a 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 Domhnaill also argued that the commission was not entitled to deal with the issues raised as they stemmed from an anonymous letter.

In July 2015, the Court of Appeal cleared the way for the investigation.

Comments are closed for legal reasons.

Read: Standards Commission finds Fianna Fáil councillor wrongly claimed expenses

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

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Órla Ryan

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