Half a million euro would be considered a miraculous life-saver by Mary, the tireless community worker struggling on behalf of cancer patients from Donegal who can barely afford the hefty cost of travel to Galway for specialised treatments.
If the hardworking managers of local community centres in the Donegal Gaeltacht received half a million euro, they could hire additional full-time Irish, and English-language, staff for several years and expand exponentially their range of services and activities in support of local people.
If Amharclann, the Irish-language theatre in Bunbeg, received half a million euro, it could run an exciting cultural programme of dance, music, cinematic and theatrical performances for the next five years.
Not to mention how hard-pressed individual artists and musicians bereft of gigs due to Covid could use that money. Or indeed the Donegal office of Irish-language organisation, Foras na Gaeilge, whose local members help keep our native language alive here. And as for those unfortunate people whose homes and businesses have been destroyed by mica ….
But none of these groups have the luxury of half a million euro.
Such a notion would be considered pure and utter fantasy, especially in the hard financial times in which we now live.
Yet that is about the sum of money former Donegal Fianna Fail Senator, Brian O’Donnell, from Falcarragh in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht, has just wasted. ‘Snatched brutally, selfishly and greedily’ some are saying, from the public purse. Others use the term ‘stolen,’ but in this article I wish to be diplomatic.
How did he do this?
Ironically, over the Irish language.
O’Donnell was caught taking money from the public purse by duplicating travel and subsistence expenses as both board member of Irish-language economic group, Údarás na Gaeltachta, and Donegal County Council.
The accusations – and this beggars belief – investigated by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) – was that it would have been impossible for him to have been in two different parts of the country at exactly the same time, at two different conferences.
And there I thought teleportation – where matter is de-materialised at one place and recreated instantly at another – happened only in science-fiction movies and fantasy comics.
If that wasn’t enough, the former Fianna Fail Senator then cowardly left the scene of an accident while driving his car in a drunken state.
But that’s only the beginning of the saga.
O’Donnell, with the aid of well-paid lawyers, fought the accusations against him, not on the basis of whether they were right or wrong, true or false, but on the simple basis that the cases should be heard as Gaeilge (in Irish) not English. The fact that both languages are official languages of the Republic of Ireland didn’t matter a damn to him, nor them. Nor the eventual cost to ordinary Irish citizens, including those unfortunate people suffering from cancer.
The rest of the story is spread across years of newsprint.
After deploying numerous tactics to delay the ‘claims investigation’ many times, he then decided to do the same to the ‘leaving the scene of an accident’ investigation, not once but a total of 20 times.
As a result, the total bill to the ordinary Irishman, woman and child has been estimated at around – yes, you’ve guessed it – half a million euro, the amount the board of trustees of Amharclann, Donegal’s proud Irish-language theatre, the hardworking staff of the county’s community centres and the many severely sick people – all dream of having to help them.
In the meantime, craftily devising his delaying tactics, which eventually spanned a massive eight years, did O’Donnell quietly planned his ‘get-out-of-jail card’ – his emigration to Canada? In fact, O’Donnell being found guilty could perhaps have led to a short prison sentence and would have prevented him emigrating to Canada. And certainly would have prevented him getting a Canadian driving license.
Was his delaying tactics also related to avoidance of his share of the legal costs? For example, I’ve been trying to find out if he ever paid a legal bill placed upon him by three judges who threw out of court his claim that the SIPO was not entitled to investigate his duplicitous behaviour because, he claimed, the allegations arose from ‘an anonymous complaint by a member of the public.’
I’d like to know not only if Mr. O’Donnell has paid his full legal bill but how much it was. If Mr O’Donnell is reading this, please get in touch. It’s only fair to hear his side of the story. And transparency is something we all should strive for.
Mysteriously the court hearing that finally put an end to one of the most ludicrous and wasteful cases in Irish legal history, almost went under the radar earlier this month, slipped quietly and quickly onto the docket of a mundane court sitting.
How did this happen? Donegal media said simply that, “according to court papers.. O’Donnell’s case was not due to be heard until the Wednesday after during a sitting of Falcarragh District Court.” That’s when his (O’Donnell’s) solicitor, Sean Cannon, “brought the matter up with Judge Paul Kelly …during a family law sitting of Letterkenny District Court.” And the judge conveniently and quickly moved the case forward.
‘Brought the matter matter up?’ What the hell does that mean? And does such a serious case merit being in a sitting on family law? The mind boggles.
And this Judge Paul Kelly? Who is he? Was he appointed under a previous Fianna Fail government? Does it look like it from this article? But then again, that doesn’t matter, surely. After all, the Irish legal system is separate from the political one, isn’t it?
Though, as we well know, it is not unknown in Ireland for political favours and indeed, brown envelopes, or both, to pass hands.
The result of the long-delayed case: a ridiculously low fine, in my opinion, of 250 euro for charges of drunken driving leaving the scene of an accident and providing misinformation the police. I dare you to find any court case where such a laughable decision has been made in such a serious case.
As for the short ban from driving, does it really matter? O’Donnell is sitting pretty in another country. Did an infamous Irish ‘brown envelope’ pass hands to facilitate this convenient legal accommodation in Letterkenny? No-one knows, and unfortunately no-one will probably ever know. Is this just an example of the old adage, ‘there’s a law for the ordinary working citizen but a very different one for the elite, well-connected in Irish society?’
So, while O’Donnell enjoys his new life in Quebec, Irish men, women and children in his very own constituency in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht continue to struggle to make ends meet, people continue to suffer pain and hardship, some desperately trying to raise enough money to help them avail of specialised life-saving cancer treatments. And young, talented teachers from the Donegal Gaeltacht, and other parts of the county, are forced to go abroad, to places like Quatar in the Middle East, because there’s no money to employ them here at home.
Is this called ‘fairness’ in Ireland today?
Among all this misconduct (there are stronger words to describe O’Donnell’s behaviour), there are two other guilty parties that should not escape blame and require stronger scrutiny by the public at large and by themselves.
At the very least, both Údarás na Gaeltachta and Donegal Council obviously urgently require a proper Code of Practice for Good Governance. And, more importantly, to enforce it. Want to know more about the failings of Údarás na Gaeltachta, an organisation that receives tens of millions of euro from the public purse every year? Read more here. Has it cleaned up its act since then? Time will tell.
There’s little anyone can do now about the regrettable situation surrounding the O’Donnell controversy, except two things.
Firstly, as a citizen you have the right to appeal to the relevant authorities about a court decision you consider overly-lenient and unfair and to have the case reviewed. One place to start is writing to the Complaints Department of the Law Society of Ireland at firstname.lastname@example.org
Then the Judicial Conduct Committee established by The Judicial Council recently. You can write a short email to: email@example.com You can ask to remain anonymous in both instances. It’s time to stand up and speak out, don’t you think?
I have already sent a complaint about Judge Paul Kelly’s decision as I consider a 250 euro fine to be utterly ridiculous and a 3-year driving ban to be insignificant, considering that Mr. O’Donnell can simply come to Ireland in the intervening years and drive with no problems using a Canadian driving license I presume he will obtain quite easily, thus posing a danger yet again to ordinary people on our roads. On both sides of the Atlantic.
Secondly, when election time comes round, and it will come quicker than you think, consider carefully which political party and candidates you vote for. Is it not better to avoid the Brian O’Donnells of this world and choose others with a much greater sense of decency and honesty?