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Ceann Comhairle likely unable to keep Rolex given to him by UAE official

The watch, believed to be worth close to €8,000, may be sold and the money used for charitable purposes.

The Rolex watch in question
The Rolex watch in question
Image: Ceann Comhairle's office

THE CEANN COMHAIRLE will likely be unable to keep an expensive watch given to him by a government official while he was visiting the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last year.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl was given a Rolex Milgauss watch by his counterpart, the President of the Federal National Council of the UAE, Dr Al Qaibasi, when in the country in late 2018. 

Ministers or government officials must notify the Secretary General if they receive a gift which exceeds €650 in value.

In turn, the Secretary General must inform the Standards in Public Office (Sipo) Commission what is done with the item in question, as set out under the Ethics Acts

The watch given to Ó Fearghaíl is believed to cost about €7,700 – well exceeding the limit.

On 29 January 2019, the Ceann Comhairle wrote to Secretary General Martin Fraser to inform him about the watch and ask what he should do with it, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show.

The Rolex was given to him while on official parliamentary business in the UAE at the end of October and start of November.

The gift, in my estimation, exceeds the value of €650 … Accordingly, I write to inform you of this gift received by me a number of weeks ago.

“I will await your formal instructions, as Secretary General of the Government, as to the arrangement of custody of this item,” Ó Fearghaíl wrote.

Watch may be sold 

Fraser responded on 5 February, saying he would ask the Office of Public Works (OPW) “to arrange for a valuation of the item concerned”. He said he would contact Ó Fearghaíl’s private secretary Brian Prunty once this had been completed.

On 27 February, Prunty wrote to the Taoiseach’s office seeking an update on the matter, saying the Ceann Comhairle was “anxious to progress the matter”. In response, he was told the OPW wanted more information about the watch. 

Prunty accordingly sent on details about the make of the watch as well as images of it. 

sec 15 Source: Ethics in Public Office Act 1995

The outcome of the OPW’s evaluation has not yet been confirmed. TheJournal.ie has contacted Ó Fearghaíl’s office and the Office of the Taoiseach for comment.

If the watch is valued at over €650 as expected, the Secretary General will advise Ó Fearghaíl what to do with it in terms of “custody” or “disposal”. 

If the latter option is chosen, the watch may be sold and the money used for charitable purposes. 

With reporting by Ken Foxe 

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Órla Ryan

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