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Mark Mulqueen (left) and Sebastian Hamilton.

Why can’t we all just get along?

The Complaint

Sebastian Hamilton
Editor, Irish Mail on Sunday,
November 15

Dear Mr.Hamilton,

Last Sunday you ran a headline on the front page of the Irish Mail on Sunday which you knew was misleading. It said that a ‘Secret Deal Gives TDs €3m A Year Raise’. I say you must have known this to be misleading because we told your correspondent on the previous Friday that this sum was not a pay rise. In fact, we reminded him that Members of the Oireachtas have received a series of pay cuts over recent years and that there was no question or suggestion of a pay rise. So, why did you choose to publish such a misleading headline? In the current climate, it must come very close to incitement to emblazon a false claim of a pay rise for politicians on the front page of ones newspaper.
You also managed to squeeze in another misleading and scurrilous headline on your front page whereby you stated that Oireachtas Members ‘stole’ €40,000 worth of envelopes. There is no question of these envelopes having been stolen as they would have been issued to Members legitimately during their membership of the Oireachtas. In fact, up to October this year former Members have already returned approximately €118,000 worth of unused pre-paid envelopes. So, there has been no question of theft and envelopes are being returned.
I could continue to tell you again of the cut in our spending, the reduction in salaries, the reduction in travel and about other savings made, but to what end? I could also explain again that there was no increase in pay nor any question of such an increase but is there any point?
I could tell you again that the cost of operating our parliament is falling, year-on-year. We have told you this before and yet you choose to ignore these and many other facts for reasons best known to yourself. In fact, is there any point to this letter? Unless you publish it, probably not.
Regards
Mark Mulqueen

The Response

Mark Mulqueen
Head of Communications
Houses of the Oireachtas
November 17
.
Dear Mr Mulqueen,
.
I am writing in response to your letter of November 15, which you published on the Oireachtas website before I had any chance to read it, far less reply to it. You appear to suggest in it that I would not publish a letter from you: this is untrue. I have never received a publishable letter from you.
The wild allegations you make will be dealt with in detail below. However for the sake of fairness, the public should be made aware that this is the latest in a continuing attempt by the Oireachtas Commission to attack the Irish Mail on Sunday for telling uncomfortable truths.
In particular, people should know that seven complaints have recently been made against us to the Press Ombudsman by the Oireachtas after we revealed expenses fraud by a sitting TD.
Five of the complaints to the Press Ombudsman were rejected; one was not decided on; one was upheld.
We accepted this ruling. You appealed against it to the Press Council. Your appeal was rejected.
These findings of the Press Ombudsman and Council are matters of public record.
I am forced to the conclusion this is why you are now resorting to using a taxpayer-fund website to launch attacks on us.
Also a matter of public record is the fact that the overall Oireachtas budget for 2012 is €115.6m; the overall budget for 2011 was €113m. No matter how much spin is applied, that is a budget increase of almost €3m since last year – which will of course all be borne by taxpayers.
You chose selectively to quote from our headline on Sunday, which in fact read in its complete form:
‘Secret deal gives TDs €3m raise/As we prepare for budget cuts, politicians get a budget increase’.
The article in question continues: “Dail deputies and senators have awarded themselves a €3m budget INCREASE for next year – just weeks after they secretly gave themselves an extra €14m to cover a massive overspend for 2011.
“While almost every other state-funded service will find its budget cut next month, the Houses of the Oireachtas have simply awarded themselves extra cash to cover their own soaring costs.”
Nowhere in that headline or introductory paragraph – nor indeed anywhere in the article in question – do we use the phrase “pay rise”. For you to so suggest that we did is simply untrue, as is your claim that our article is misleading.
It is both common sense and legally established that any headline has to be read in full and in conjunction with the accompanying article – in recognition of the fact that a headline is by its nature a brief, powerful summary in straightforward terms of a wider issue.
No doubt for us to reveal the Oireachtas’s secret €3m budget increase at such a sensitive time is highly embarrassing for you. No doubt the failure of almost every one of its Press Ombudsman/Press Council complaints must sting. Perhaps you are infuriated that we will not back down in our campaign to have expenses fraud within the Oireachtas investigated. Perhaps this is why you are now resorting to printing untruths about us on the Oireachtas website.
I would seek to take a complaint against you for misusing the Oireachtas website in this way: unlike us, however, you are not subject to any external or independent regulation. You are exempt from being examined by the Ombudsman. There is no independent authority to whom we can appeal – other than the public.
However I would appeal to you simply to remember that it is taxpayers who matter here, and how their money is spent  – or mis-spent. You know, for example, that last year we revealed how a sitting TD had used fake invoices to claim bogus Dail invoices. Despite all our exhortations, the Oireachtas has never investigated these bogus expenses claims, nor taken any action to have them investigated. Perhaps I could suggest that rather than using your privileged position to pursue your campaign against us, you might at long last seek to have that scandal pursued and see justice done.
Finally, I would also like to correct your your point about our reporting of the missing Oireachtas prepaid envelopes, which are legally for use only by serving TDs and Senators – but which are still in the possession of former members of the Oireachtas. Of course these envelopes were not stolen when they were first issued: but after the Dail was dissolved and the envelopes were pocketed by outgoing TDs, they became stolen property.
A simple analogy is that many employees are legitimately given computers. But if they resign or leave they cannot try and hold on to those computers. They cannot remove them from the office and take them home. Doing so would constitute theft.
Such a theft is exactly what has happened here. NINE months after these envelopes should have been handed back, at least €40,000 worth have still not been returned.
Those envelopes are not yours: they belong to taxpayers. We paid for them. They should not be in the possession of people who have no right to them. Why do you seem to view this as legitimate?
You seem to suggest that it is unthinkable that a member of the Oireachtas would act in a dishonourable fashion. Do you need  me to the run through the roll-call of TDs, from CJ Haughey and Ray Burke to Michael Lowry and Liam Lawlor, who have to date been found by tribunals to be profoundly corrupt?
I would of course also remind you that the newspapers which first uncovered the Haughey, Lowry, Burke and Lawlor scandals were attacked in similar fashion. Like them, I have no doubt we will be vindicated.
The reality is that the only misleading publication here is your letter; and that the only “scurrilous” issue is the failure of the Oireachtas to pursue the outrageous and brazen theft of at least €40,000 of taxpayers’ property.
Still, given its refusal to investigate expenses fraud involving a sitting TD, perhaps we should not be surprised.
Yours sincerely,
Sebastian Hamilton

 

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