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How to raise Irish taxpayers' tempers

John O'Donoghue, who expensed first class travel, limousines and hat rental, has resigned.

A woman walks past graffiti on a wall in Dublin April 7, 2009. During its bleak economic recession, the Irish have been outraged to discover the extent of travel expenses billed by government officials. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

DUBLIN, Ireland — It is said that when a politician becomes a figure of ridicule his or her career is over. This was the case with John O’Donoghue, speaker of the lower house of the Irish Parliament, known as the Dail, who keeps members in line by shouting “Order, Order.”

O’Donoghue’s lavish living at taxpayer’s expense prompted Irish Times cartoonist Martyn Turner on Tuesday to portray him shouting “Order me first class tickets,” and “Order me the finest food taxpayers’ money can buy.”

At a time of cutbacks in pay and services, O’Donoghue’s extravagance as the arts minister from 2002 to 2007 and as Dail speaker since then has caused widespread outrage.

In a two-year period as the arts minister O’Donoghue, his wife and an aide claimed 120,000 euros ($175,000) in travel expenses. These included a four-day trip by government jet to Venice, where the hotel bills came to $8,000, hotel suites in Paris at $1,250 a night and $170 to rent a hat for his female press officer on a trip to London. On one occasion O'Donoghue and his officials ran up a bill of $750 for limousines to get from one terminal to another at London’s Heathrow Airport, where a free shuttle service is available.

O'Donoghue's excessive spending happened during the Celtic Tiger years, when cash flowed freely. The expenses were uncovered by journalists over several weeks of digging through government records.  However, it has now emerged that O’Donoghue has also been living high for the last two years as speaker, at a time when the economy was plunging into recession. He has admitted to incurring a further $133,000 in expenses, much of it for first class travel and accommodation for himself and his wife, and late on Tuesday announced his resignation.

The controversy comes on the heels of another spending controversy involving Rody Molloy, head of the state employment agency. Molloy resigned last year when his extravagance at the expense of taxpayers came to light. Then in September it emerged that, in order to persuade Molloy to step down, deputy prime minister Mary Coughlan authorised a $1.5 million golden handshake on top of his full pension as director of the Training and Employment Authority (known by its Irish initials as Fas).