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Minister says 'alternative way' to deal with Dara Murphy complaints will be found as Dáil clerk has 'no jurisdiction'

The Dáil Committee on Members’ Interests is to meet on Thursday but questions remain as to whether they have the power to investigate.

EPP's Manfred Weber and Dara Murphy earlier this year in Munich.
EPP's Manfred Weber and Dara Murphy earlier this year in Munich.
Image: DPA/PA Images

Updated Dec 11th 2019, 5:48 PM

FINANCE MINISTER PASCHAL Donohoe has said he will work with the Houses of the Oireachtas to develop “another adequate way” in which the questions around the expenses of former Fine Gael TD Dara Murphy can be dealt with. 

His comments come after TheJournal.ie revealed this morning that the Clerk of the Dáil cannot investigate Murphy’s expenses and Dáil attendance issues. 

A spokesperson for the Houses of the Oireachtas said in a statement to TheJournal.ie: 

“The Clerk of the Dáil has no jurisdiction in this matter. DPER [Department of Public Expenditure and Reform] make the regulations and we implement them.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said last week that the clerk could carry out an investigation.

The Taoiseach said questions have been raised about Murphy’s attendance and expenses, and must be answered.

Speaking to reporters today, Varadkar said: “I can’t prescribe which competent authority should [carry out the investigation], but I think there should be an investigation.”

He added that if this investigation found that Murphy broke the rules, he “absolutely” should return any money he should not have received. Health Minister Simon Harris previously said that the former TD should repay some of the expenses. 

Murphy, formerly a Cork North Central TD, has faced criticism in recent weeks over reports around his attendance at Leinster House. 

The former minister of State has been based in Brussels for the past two years where he has worked as full-time director of elections for the European People’s Party (EPP). Fine Gael is a member of the EPP, a political grouping in the European Union.

Varadkar said he “certainly could have” asked Murphy to resign from this role, but he chose not to do so. 

Questions have been raised about Murphy working in Brussels while also being a sitting TD in the Dáil. Questions have also been raised about how Murphy has been in Leinster House on 24 sitting days out of 70 in the first nine months of 2019 and just 42 of the 104 sitting days during 2018.

“Those questions need to be answered. Dara Murphy has agreed to participate and cooperate with any investigation. I understand that he may not be able to have an investigation by the ethics committee, or by Sipo, as he’s now a former member of the Dáil, but it would be possible, for example, for the clerk with the Dáil to carry out an investigation. I think something like that will be appropriate,” the Taoiseach said last Thursday. 

Since the issue has been highlighted, the Taoiseach has named a number of bodies he believes should be tasked with carrying out a review into Murphy, his attendance and expenses claimed. 

However, each one put forward by Leo Varadkar has rejected that it has jurisdiction over the matter, and stated that it is not its remit to investigate. 

Before floating the idea that the Dáil clerk should carry out a review, Varadkar also claimed last week that the Standards of Public Office (Sipo) could investigate the matter.

This was later shot down by Sipo. 

Sipo confirmed to TheJournal.ie that as Murphy has ceased to be a TD they cannot investigate. The clarity by Sipo was welcomed by a spokesperson for the Taoiseach. 

The Standards watchdog also noted that the Dáil’s Ethic Committee is also ruled out for the same reason. 

One source said that if Sipo has said it cannot look into the matter, “then that’s it”, adding that there are no other options for the government. 

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said today that a number of bodies have said it is not under their remit to carry out such an investigation. 

“My understanding was this was a matter that could be dealt with by Sipo, but it has now become clear that they can only deal with office holders and Mr Murphy is no longer an office holder,” he said.

“So what I will have to consider and I know the Houses of the Oireachtas will have to consider, is there an alternative way in which this can be dealt with?

“I’ve become aware now of the view of the Clerk of the Dail in relation to his standing on the matter and we will have to find a way in which this can be dealt with.”

Fianna Fáil has formally requested the Oireachtas Committee on Member’s Interests to inquire into Murphy’s attendance record and whether he breached ethics legislation by claiming full allowances despite being largely absent from the Dáil.

The committee is due to meet on Thursday morning, where the matter will be discussed. 

However, it has been reported that the committee can only conduct an investigation into Murphy’s attendance and expenses if he requests an inquiry be carried out himself.

While the Taoiseach has stated that Murphy is willing to fully comply with any inquiry, it is understood that no letter or correspondence from Murphy has been received to date requesting for such a review to take place.

It is believed legal advice may be sought by the committee as questions hang over its members as to whether they are also ruled out from investigating the matter due to Murphy stepping down as a TD last week. 

Speaking to reporters, Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donnelly said questions remain for the Taoiseach as to how Murphy was permitted to be absent from the Dáil for such a long period of time while also claiming a full salary as a TD. 

He said questions about who will carry out the review into the matter will get “buried and hidden behind a radiator” by Fine Gael. However, Donnelly said the Taoiseach must answer those questions. 

Additional reporting by Orla Dwyer. 

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