Almost half a million euro was spent in investigating alleged false expense claims by two former members of Údarás na Gaeltachta, according to figures obtained by Seacht Lá, TG4’s current affairs programme.
The programme that broadcast this week revealed that the Standards in Public Office (SIPO) Commission has spent €455,000 investigating duplication of expenses by Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, who was an elected board member of Údarás na Gaeltachta as well as a member of Donegal County Council.
A further €21,300 was spent investigating similar allegations against Pádraig Doherty, who was also an elected member of the Board of Údarás na Gaeltachta and Donegal County Council. Both men were found to have contravened ethics legislation by submitting claims for travelling and subsistence expenses from two separate bodies for the same dates.
Most of the costs relate to two legal challenges taken by Senator Ó Domhnaill. He took a case in the High Court in an effort to ensure that the hearing by SIPO would be bilingual and would be conducted without the assistance of an interpreter. He appealed the High Court ruling against him, and claimed that the investigation should not take place until the rules of the Court of Appeal were made available in Irish.
SIPO say that the costs in the case of Senator Ó Domhnaill are based on the amounts invoiced by the Commission's solicitors, which would have included costs of other service providers such as translation, legal counsel, stenographers, court fees in addition to their own professional fees for work carried out on the case among other costings.
The Court of Appeal directed that the costs of the High Court and Court of Appeal cases be paid to the Commission by Senator Ó Domhnaill and SIPO has confirmed that it is currently pursuing the payment of these costs.
SIPO has also confirmed that no members of the board of three other development boards – the IDA, Enterprise Ireland or Shannon Development – have been investigated by them over the last ten years.
The Commission has completed only four investigations relating to expense claims by county or city councillors in the past ten years and they were related to Donegal public representatives.
As well as Senator Ó Domhnaill and Mr Doherty two other members of Donegal County Council were investigated - Dessie Larkin (FF) and Terence Slowey (FG). Mr Slowey is currently a member of Donegal County Council.