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John McGuinness's role as chair of the PAC has been called into question after reports about his spending while he was a junior minister. Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
By all accounts

McGuinness to step aside for questioning at Public Accounts Committee

Fianna Fáil’s former junior minister will open himself up to questioning from colleagues about his spending in office tomorrow.

THE CHAIRMAN of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee will step aside at its meeting tomorrow – so that TDs can interrogate him about his spending while in office as a junior minister.

John McGuinness will temporarily vacate the chairmanship tomorrow so that other members from all political parties can ask him questions about office, personnel and travel expenditure while he served as a junior trade minister between 2007 and 2008.

The events come after it emerged that McGuinness had clashed with civil servants over whether it was possible to bring his wife with him on overseas trade visits – with McGuinness claiming he was not facilitated in bringing his wife, Margaret, even though he was keen to personally cover her travel costs.

Controversy over McGuinness’s travel costs came to a head when the Irish Independent found evidence that the State spent €22,000 sending the couple and an official to Seattle for the St Patrick’s Day festivities in 2008.

It also reported that McGuinness’s son had earned over €30,000 in overtime payments while working with his father at a time when another member of the junior minister’s staff was out on maternity leave.

McGuinness’s temporary standing aside will mark the second PAC meeting in a row where the Carlow-Kilkenny TD will have relinquished the chair so that he could take part in a question-and-answer session about his own spending.

At the last meeting, two weeks ago, McGuinness stood aside so that he could ask direct questions to figures from the Office of Public Works about the amount it spent constructing an office for him at the former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Figures from the government and independent benches have called on McGuinness to resign his position as PAC chairman in light of the furore around his public spending, arguing that the Dáil’s spending watchdog should not be chaired by someone whose own former spending was questionable.

His position essentially remains a gift of FF leader Micheál Martin, however, thanks to a parliamentary convention which determines that the PAC chairmanship be filled by a member of the largest opposition party.

Martin – who was McGuinness’s senior minister at the Department of Enterprise during McGuinness’s brief tenure – has pledged full confidence in his party colleague.

Today TDs from Fine Gael and Labour repeated their calls for McGuinness to step down – but it remains unclear whether they would be prepared to vote him out of the position and install an alternative candidate.

Independent TD Shane Ross contested the chairmanship of the committee at its first meeting in 2011, but was defeated when the Fine Gael and Labour members voted to install McGuinness instead.

Read: Martin suggests Fine Gael has ‘a hand’ in ‘consistent targeting’ of PAC chair

More: Howlin: Paying travel costs for spouses ‘not the pattern’ of this government

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