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Mary Lou has abused her Dáil privilege

The Sinn Féin deputy leader should not have named six former politicians in the Dáil, a committee has found.

Mary Lou McDonald
Mary Lou McDonald
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

MARY LOU MCDONALD abused her parliamentary privilege when she named six former politicians as having allegedly evaded tax last November, a Dáil committee has found.

The Committee on Procedures and Privileges (CPP) has issued a formal ruling in recent days stating that the Sinn Féin deputy leader should not have named the politicians who were alleged to have offshore Ansbacher bank accounts.

McDonald read the names into the Dáil record last December when raising allegations from a whistleblower in the Department of Jobs who was investigating alleged tax evasion.

Two former Fianna Fáil ministers Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and Ray MacSharry, as well as ex-Progressive Democrat minister Desmond O’Malley, strenuously denied allegations that they ever had Ansbacher accounts.

All four complained to the CPP along with the Fianna Fáíl whip Seán Ó Fearghaíl who described McDonald’s remarks as a “gross misuse of Dáil privilege”.

In a ruling issued by the CPP, its chairman, and Dáil Ceann Comhairle, Seán Barrett, says that McDonald’s failure to withdraw the remarks following a previous ruling constitute an “abuse of privilege”.

The CPP said that on 4 March members determined that McDonald’s remarks had been defamatory and had requested that the TD make a statement in the Dáil withdrawing them.

File Photo D Day for the Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett Seán Barrett chairs the CPP Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

In correspondence with the committee, McDonald questioned and disputed claims she had abused privilege and argued that she was covered by Dáil rules (Standing Orders) that give TDs parliamentary privilege.

In a letter to the CPP on 11 March, the Dublin Central TD said she had not been allowed to see the letters of complaint about her use of privilege and said the committee’s process for deciding the matter was “deeply flawed”.

The CPP “strongly rejected” McDonald’s claims in another meeting on 1 April. In the committee’s ruling, Barrett writes:

CPP is of the view that the right to one’s good name is a fundamental right, and persons outside of the House should not be referred to in a manner which would adversely affect their good names or reputations. The Constitution confers absolute privilege on members of Dáil Éireann in respect of their utterances in the House, and CPP is of the view that under no circumstances should this be abused.

“Deputy McDonald by failing to indicate her intention to withdraw the utterances by the date specified has in effect failed to withdraw them.

“In light of this CPP is now reporting to Dáil Éireann its findings that Deputy McDonald’s utterances were in the nature of being defamatory, and were prima facie an abuse of privilege, having regard to the provisions of Standing Order 59.”

While the findings of the committee will be read into the Dáil record when TDs come back from the Easter break next week it is not clear if McDonald will make a statement.

The Sinn Féin TD could not be reached for comment this evening and the party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read: What’s all this about a whistleblower, a dossier and some politicians dodging tax?

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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