October 6, 2009 / 6:21 PM / 9 years ago

Irish opposition parties tell parliamentary speaker to quit

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Leaders of Ireland’s two main opposition parties called for the speaker of parliament to resign on Tuesday in the face of growing controversy over his expenses claims.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore told parliament he would recommend a motion of no-confidence in John O’Donoghue, who has incurred some 90,000 euros (83,250 pounds) in foreign travel expenses since taking over as speaker in June 2007.

“I regret to say this but I consider that your position is no longer tenable. I think you will either have to resign or I think you will have to be removed from office,” Gilmore said, calling the “pattern of extravagance” unacceptable.

Enda Kenny, who leads main opposition party Fine Gael, later backed the call for O’Donoghue to quit. But Prime Minister Brian Cowen said his Fianna Fail party colleague’s affairs should be dealt with by a parliamentary commission.

O’Donoghue will give a detailed response on Wednesday to the commission, which oversees expenses and allowances paid to members of parliament and which he normally chairs.

O’Donoghue spent more than half a million euros on travel when he was minister for tourism between 2002 and 2007. His ministerial expenses included a limousine between terminals at London’s Heathrow Airport and a 1,000 euros-a-night Paris hotel.

“I believe the (speaker) should be given the opportunity to put his proposals to the commission in keeping and constant with the independence of his office and we should afford him the opportunity to do so,” Cowen said.

Cowen’s junior partners the Green Party, who hold the balance of power in his razor-thin majority, will vote on whether to remain in government on Saturday and the expenses scandal has added to their strained relationship.

Horse Racing Ireland also turned up the heat on the embattled speaker by this week releasing details of more than 20,000 euros in expenses incurred by O’Donoghue when he attended horse racing festivals in Melbourne, Aintree and Cheltenham.

An expenses scandal in Britain forced the resignation of the speaker of the House of Commons and such controversy, along with the Irish government’s record low popularity, has made politicians in Ireland sensitive to criticism over their pay.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Dominic Evans

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