EMBATTLED SENATOR Brian Ó Domhnaill has broken his silence on recent controversy surrounding him and has vowed to mount a ‘rigorous challenge in the High Court’.
Senator Ó Domhnaill’s legan team is to seek a judicial review in the High Court after having resigned the Fianna Fáil whip in light of confirmation that the Standards in Public Office had found that he had breached ethics laws.
The Office found that Senator Ó Domhnaill had ‘knowingly claiming travel expenses from two different bodies for meetings taking place in different locations on the same dates.;
The disputed claims date back to 2006 when he was a member of Donegal County Council.
“I categorically refuse to accept SIPO’s findings in every respect and will seek to vindicate my good name, by whatever means, to right the wrong that has been done to me,” Senator Ó Domhnaill says in an exclusive interview with the Tirchonaill Tribune.
“These findings are not grounded on an objective reading of the facts, as presented throughout SIPO’s investigation.
“My legal team has advised me to challenge the findings “on a number of substantive grounds. Accordingly, this is an issue which will be subject to a rigorous challenge in the High Court.”
Senator Ó Domhnaill says the findings have completely undermined and compromised his personal and professional integrity and character.
Senator O’Domhnaill, in conjunction with his legal advisers, have provided clarification setting out his position on the claims.
He said that until the SIPO report was issued he was advised not to make any comment on issues relating to the case.
In his statement Senator O’Domhnaill told the Tribune that in relation to the SIPO decision, he feels compelled to outline his side of the issues involved.
Senator O’Domhnaill said: “The report findings have completely undermined and compromised my personal and professional integrity and character.
“They have done this in the absence of any real evidence to support their findings. I wish to put ‘on record’ that I am highly concerned with the damaging and erroneously-based claims that the report has made in finding that I had been somehow engaged in conduct calculated to achieve the maximum financial returns. In this matter, I wish to robustly deny any wrongdoing.
“I have always endeavoured to represent and serve the public in all duties and in all my public positions with honesty, integrity, respect and honour, and this is why the report has completely gutted me, particularly given the political smear campaign at the heart of the original complaint concerned, comprising allegations from an anonymous complainant.
“This is the genesis of the entire process, and in so doing, caused the inception of the SIPO report, which has painted my best efforts to execute my role as a public representative in a negative and biased manner.”
Senator Ó Domhnaill has outlined the following to the Tirchonaill Tribune:
“On 1st July, 2011, a named person (name withheld for legal reasons) made an application under the Freedom of Information Act to both Donegal County Council and Údarás na Gaeltachta for personal details of my travel and subsistence claims relating to 2006 and 2007.
“It has since emerged that the address used by the individual concerned was, at the time, an unused warehouse in west Dublin.
“It has also been determined that the individual, who sought these records, is a nephew of a public figure in Co. Donegal, and that the same individual, having access to the said warehouse and used the address of that property, was, in fact, acting on instructions by the public representative concerned.
“It can be confirmed that the public figure-in-question currently holds a very prominent position of office in Donegal today.
“However, it is important to clarify that this person is, or never has been, a member of the Oireachtas. (Name withheld for legal reasons).
“Subsequent to both Donegal County Council and Údarás na Gaeltachta issuing documentation to the individual at a Dublin address in late July 2011, an anonymous complaint was made against me to both Donegal County Council and Údarás na Gaeltachta.
“The anonymous complaint was dated 9th August, 2011. The relevant documentation, presented to both agencies, was signed “A Concerned Citizen” and stemmed from the material issued by both agencies in late July of that year.
“In three separate instances, a number of my former colleagues were also subjected to intense scrutiny by Donegal County Council and SIPO on foot of allegations of the same claimant(s), which caused personal hurt and stress on both themselves and their respective families.
“The truth surrounding the perpetrators to the background of these allegations must be brought to the public’s attention. I, therefore, strongly encourage the media sources, that are already aware of the public figure’s identity, to let the true facts be made known in this matter.
“Back in 2013, while my case and others were being scrutinised by SIPO, Donegal County Council made the decision not to pursue twenty-three similar complaints made against current and former Councillors; however, this was due to the fact that the then Ethics Registrar of Donegal County Council began to question the credibility and authenticity of the named individual behind these accusations.
“It is unclear as to why the Council took over two years to question the credibility and authenticity of the said complainant, who, in a letter written by his own hand on August 16th, 2013, stated that the complaints-in-question were falsely made under his name.
“This begs the question: Why has a period of over two years elapsed, between July 2011 (FOI request) and August 2013, before the said individual attempted to explain this point?
“Accusations and Implications of Misconduct
“All aspects, in relation to this matter, have already been open to public and media exposure heretofore. However, SIPO’s final judgment lacks reliability and consistency.
“The SIPO Investigation has found nine contraventions against me; however, there are, in fact, only three alleged breaches at issue, arising out of three separate Donegal Sport Partnership (DSP) events, which I attended on behalf of Údarás na Gaeltachta. The total travel and subsistence allowance claims, for these respective events in 2006, was €253.54. These claims represent the core of the SIPO report findings and my alleged contraventions therein.
“I can confirm that all three claims were made correctly to Udarás na Gaeltachta. On the day of the oral hearing, the 9th May, 2016, a witness, at the enquiry, gave testimony on behalf of Údarás na Gaeltachta and confirmed that Údarás na Gaeltachta had no issue with any of the expense claims made by me.
“Furthermore, in a statement issued by Údarás na Gaeltachta, following the publication of the SIPO report, the organisation stated: “Údarás na Gaeltachta is satisfied that the appropriate payments were made to Mr Ó Domhnaill based on the claims he had made for travel and subsistence costs to attend meetings of Údarás and Donegal Sports Partnership. Attendance at these meetings in their entirety was confirmed in all cases. Therefore, at this stage, Údarás na Gaeltachta is satisfied that there is no basis to seek the recoupment of paid claims from Mr Ó Domhnaill.’
“I can also categorically state that any claims made (in this case – €253.54 – for three separate events) were far outweighed by what it actually cost me to attend these events. I was in attendance at each and every event.
“One of the allegations made by SIPO is that I was not permitted to absent myself from a social event during the course of a conference, in this case, one involving an outing on a ship and being entertained by Guinness and oysters; however, I chose to attend a launch of the Donegal Sports Partnership, of which I was Chairman at the time. I remain of the clear view that I served the public interest on that occasion in a better way by attending the DSP event.
“SIPO’s findings are based on its new tenet that once a public representative attends a conference on behalf of one’s organisation, one may not, on pain of adverse finding by SIPO, absent oneself from any portion of that conference. For instance, public representatives, representing counties without railways, cannot absent themselves from that portion of a conference, according to transport policy which specifically relates to railways; whereas, a public representative, representing inland counties at tourism conferences, cannot absent oneself from sessions pertaining to coastal amenities.
“Should one absent themselves from irrelevant sections of conferences to attend to constituency matters, then, one is liable to have one’s name tarnished and singled out?
“This is how SIPO dealt with me. During this entire process, I have done my utmost to answer every question raised truthfully and I have striven to provide transparent and accurate explanations as requested. SIPO’s report findings have not taken these responses into account.
In fact, these claims are not an instance of double-claiming, but rather of two individual claims to two distinct public organisations for separate trips on different roads and dates.
“The SIPO Procedure
“From the beginning, I have been unfairly judged in this process. Consequently, I question the objectivity and balance of the manner in which SIPO conducts its investigations, for it would appear that the SIPO legal counsel assumed the roles of Judge, Accuser and Prosecutor. This must lead to an institutional bias.
“Referencing the late Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, he described Tribunals as a “…fattening up process for lawyers…”.
“The SIPO process, in my case, has been enormously costly, subjective, inconsistent, time-consuming and ultimately, a meaningless process.
“From an academic standpoint, this investigation has been neither efficient nor effective and characterises a grave infringement into an individual’s rights, in the sense that one has no protection and no rights.
“A serious problem, emerging from this entire process, has been how the initial material (constructed by anonymous and politically-driven complainant(s) was fed to the public; this material-in-question was completely unsubstantiated, but was presented in the public forum as truth, long before it could be questioned, disputed, disclaimed or corroborated.
“As a direct result, the public perception deems this skewed information as factual, thus making any endeavour to question or rectify this view becomes unfeasible. As such, this contradicts the deep-seated constitutional right of the time honoured cliché “innocent until proven guilty,” which is fundamental to our personal and human rights and civil liberties within this State.
“Fact or Opinion?
“It is understandable that SIPO has to justify its exorbitant legal costs by publishing a highly critical report.
“It has been reported (Journal.ie) that the SIPO estimated legal costs, to date, are in the region of €350,000. This expenditure has been incurred, to identify whether €253.54 was claimed correctly from Údarás na Gaeltachta, resulting from my attendance at three meetings, dating back to 2006, while working as a Councillor and an elected member of an tÚdarás.
“The subjective nature of the SIPO report paints the picture of nine contraventions; however, there are, in fact, only three alleged breaches at issue, arising out of three separate events.
“Evidence devoid of proper corroboration, as in the SIPO findings, is essentially grounded on opinion and guesswork. At the close of this drawn-out process, SIPO’s report proves naught.
“As was emphasised by the Supreme Court in Lawlor v. Flood  3IR 107 at 137: ‘A Tribunal hearing is neither a criminal trial nor a civil court trial, and the findings of a Tribunal can impose no criminal sanctions or civil liabilities on any person. In essence, the findings of this report are no more than an expression of opinion in relation to matters considered by it’.
“Conversely, a report grounded on fact and the truth would absolve me of any impropriety or wrongdoing, and yet in this case, SIPO has been afforded the latitude of issuing a report based merely on its own opinion.
“In conclusion, I would like to emphasise the very real threat that cases like mine pose to public servants in general. For instance, if fraudulent records can be obtained from Local Authorities and subsequently abused to destroy someone’s character, then it has far-reaching ramifications for our democracy now and in the future.
“It has been said that “for evil men to accomplish their purpose, it is only necessary that good men should do nothing”. As such, my intention is to not stand by idly and do nothing, but rather to seek the truth and to ensure the public are made aware of the perpetrator(s) behind this entire saga. Otherwise, someone else could find themselves affected tomorrow. I also encourage the media to be fair, responsible and to report on the entire facts surrounding the root of this issue.
“For over five years, I have faced relentless, uninterrupted and thorough investigations by SIPO and previously, by Donegal County Council, due to a complaint, since known to be a fraudulent and unfounded complaint, made to Donegal County Council.
“As a result, the pressure, during this time, has been intense and all-encompassing. I wish to pay generous tribute to my wife, family, friends and colleagues who never lost faith in me.
It is their unwavering support that has given me the strength and encouragement to cope with a very disruptive and traumatic period of my life.”