John O’Donoghue to resign
John O’Donoghue to resign

The speaker of the Dublin parliament, the Ceann Comhairle, John O’Donoghue, announced tonight that he will resign next week.

His decision to resign could affect the tight balance of power in the Dail.

The move came in a one-line statement released shortly after 10.30pm and follows increased pressure over his outlandish expense claims.

Earlier today, the leaders of Fine Gael and the Labour Party joined Sinn Fein in calling for Mr O’Donoghue to resign.

Although the scandal of his expense claims had continued for weeks, the move by the main opposition parties followed weeks of inactivity, partly influenced by concerns that the scandal could expand to include other parliamentarians and political leaders.

Several weeks of Sunday newspaper articles had detailed lavish expenses claims by Mr O’Donoghue while he was Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, frequently employing the government’s private jet for his travels.

In the latest revelation, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act last week showed that Horse Racing Ireland, a publicly funded organisation, picked up bills of more than 20,000 Euro on behalf of Fianna Fail delegations led by Mr O’Donoghue to nine international race meetings between 2003 and 2007.

The Ceann Comhairle also revealed last Friday that he has claimed more than a hundred thousand in expenses since taking on his new job in 2007, almost all incurred during trips abroad.

Sinn Fein’s Caoimhghin O Caolain today succeeded in urging both Fine Gael and the Labour Party to support his call for John O’Donoghue’s resignation.

Said Mr O Caolain: “He brought to the position of Ceann Comhairle the same cavalier attitude to public money that became all-pervasive during the Celtic Tiger years at the highest levels in Government and in some State and semi-State bodies such as FAS and that was in evidence during his term as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism.

“We have to challenge a culture whereby a senior official of the State, such as Deputy O’Donoghue, can, for example, avail of 799 pounds sterling of Irish taxpayers’ money to hire a limousine to take him between terminals and a VIP lounge at Heathrow Aiport.”

Speaking in the Dail this afternoon, Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore spoke directly to John O’Donoghue, urging him resign his position or face being removed from office.

Mr Gilmore said: “The pattern of the extravagance was unacceptable.

“Unacceptable to me as a public representative, unacceptable to me as a taxpayer and I think unacceptable to the vast majority of taxpayers.”

“I considered that it was something that the Dail was going to have to deal with -- and deal with quickly.”

The Taoiseach Brian Cowen said it was “greatly to be regretted” that the issue had been brought before the Dail “in this way”.

He insisted that a parliamentary committee meeting was the appropriate forum to deal with the scandal.

In recent weeks, Mr O’Donoghue has sought to defy the pressure, claiming he had not profited from his luxurious lifestyle, which he said was essential to preserve the dignity of his office. He had vowed to bring forward plans to overhaul the parliamentary expenses system as a means of dealing with the problem.

This evening, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said in a short statement that in the interests of the independence of his office, Mr O’Donoghue should “resign forthwith”.

He said it was no longer “realistic” that Mr O’Donoghue remain in office in the face of the scandal and seek to advance his plans for parliamentary reform.

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