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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Séan Ó Fearghaíl

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked that €7,700 Rolex watch gifted by UAE be donated

The Rolex had been given to the Ceann Comhairle by the President of the Federal National Council of the UAE, Dr Amal Al Qubaisi.

CEANN COMHAIRLE SEÁN Ó Fearghaíl asked that a €7,700 Rolex watch, which he received as a gift while travelling on official business, be sold and the money donated to Trócaire.

Ó Fearghaíl received the present while visiting the United Arab Emirates in late 2018.

However, strict rules on politicians receiving gifts mean that any item with a value estimated at above €650 must be declared to the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach.

The Rolex Milgauss, which has been valued at €7,700 by the Office of Public Works, had been given to the Ceann Comhairle by the President of the Federal National Council of the UAE, Dr Amal Al Qubaisi.

Correspondence obtained under a Freedom of Information request (FOI) shows how Fianna Fáil’s Ó Fearghaíl has requested that the watch be sold, and the proceeds given to charity.

In a letter addressed to Martin Fraser, Secretary General to the government, he wrote:

“While any deserving charity would be the worthy recipient of the proceeds of the sale, I would like to draw your attention to my support of Trócaire since taking office.

As Ceann Comhairle, I have worked closely with Trócaire over the past three years in fundraising for crucially important water treatment facilities in Tigray in Ethiopia.

“You might consider this cause as a possibility, which is one close to my heart, but I leave the final decision with you, as is appropriate in the circumstances,” he added in the letter, sent last April.

In a letter to the Ceann Comhairle, Martin Fraser had explained how any gift worth more than €650 was deemed “a gift to the State”.

Under ethics legislation, there were two options available, according to the correspondence.

“Custody of the property by or on behalf of the State (including the giving of it on loan to a person),” was option one.

Option two was detailed as “its disposal, whether by sale or gift, and shall dispose, in accordance with those general directions, of any proceeds of such loan or sale, including by their payment into the Exchequer or disposal for charitable purposes”.

Fraser said that the normal practice was for such “high value gifts” to be maintained on behalf of the State.

However, he said the sale of it for payment back to the taxpayer or for “charitable purposes” was also a possibility.

It’s understood a final decision on what to do with the watch has not yet been made.

Under ethics legislation, notification of receipt of the gift also had to be declared to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) and it was listed by the Ceann Comhairle in the Register of Interests for 2018.

Mr Ó Fearghaíl raised the issue of the watch on 29 January 2019, when he first wrote to Martin Fraser.

In that letter, he explained: “The gift, in my estimation, exceeds the value of €650 … I will await your formal instructions, as Secretary General of the Government, as to the arrangement of custody of this item.”

The Rolex watch is a Milgauss of a type which has been manufactured by the famous Swiss watchmakers since 1956.

It was developed for scientists because it’s capable of withstanding magnetic fields and was best known as the watch of choice for staff working at the famous CERN [European Organisation for Nuclear Research] lab in Geneva.

There are currently two versions of it available, one with a blue dial or black dial with green-tinted sapphire glass. The gifted watch was the blue version, based on pictures provided by the Oireachtas under FOI.

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