This story started more than a year ago as I began to look into allegations of excessive spending by the Ceann Comhairle’s office.
First up was a story about the refurbishment of John O’Donoghue’s office in Leinster House at a cost to the taxpayer of more than €100,000, which included €29,000 for carpets, a €1,000 chair and €11,000 carpets.
Next up came the story, which might have began the furore about his expenses but didn’t. In this, the Sunday Tribune disclosed how on a trip to New York, he stayed at a $1,200 a night hotel and spent another $1,200 on tickets for Broadway shows. I’m going to upload the FOI documents released by Tourism Ireland regarding this trip when I get a chance. They have not been made available to the public at large yet and are interesting.
Following that, there was the by now notorious story of John O’Donoghue’s €900 a night hotels, the €250 on water taxis, the €120 for hat hire and the €80 for the “Indians” who carried in the luggage.
The following week, we carried a story about how John O’Donoghue had used the government jet to fly from Cannes to Kerry and then on to the Heineken Cup Final in Cardiff.
Then came the story, which seems to have caused the greatest consternation, how Mr O’Donoghue had a private driver for the duration of the Cheltenham racing festival, who cost €1,400 a day.
Lastly, we carried a story about the VIP services rented on behalf of the Minister at a Paris airport.
I’m delighted to see Gavin’s Blog (http://www.gavinsblog.com/) posting up details of the full John O’Donoghue request, a big undertaking, which I simply wouldn’t have had time to do these past few weeks. So if people want to find out more of the actual nitty-gritty details, they’ll get it there. In our series of stories, I’ve tried my level best to give the complete picture of the spending that was involved but there is a lot of detail there and they are worth reading.
If there are any more stories to come, I will – in future – upload the relevant documents on this blog, time permitting.
In saying that, if my newspaper pays a significant sum of money for an FOI request, I think we are perfectly entitled to get first value-for-money out of it, despite the criticism we have received from some quarters.
I have said all along that documents regarding Ministerial expenses should not just be available under FOI, but that they should be published either online or, even better, made accessible for inspection by the general public.
There is also a strong misconception out there that the Department of Arts, Sport & Tourism are withholding information about this. They are not, and when our stories refer to incomplete information, it is simply that there are some missing documents. The Department has been quite open about this and I don’t believe there is any question of withholding data. Where information is blacked out, there is no conspiracy, it simply means that those costs do not relate to John O’Donoghue’s travels and are thus not being made available under the scope of the original FOI request.
If anybody has any questions or comments, feel free to make them.