How did the Ceann Comhairle’s confidential conversations end up in a government memo?

There have been a lot of angry voices (almost all of them Fianna Fail) on the air since the putative demise of John O’Donoghue. Now Harry McGee has seen a memo which throws some detailed light on Eamon Gilmore’s manoeuvring before opening the trapdoor under Mr O’Donoghue the other day… What’s remarkable about it is that this “internal memo prepared for Government” contains confidential details of what passed in two telephone conversations between the Ceann Comhairle and the Leader of the Labour Party. Here’s the guts of the memo from Harry’s article:

“He informed [Gilmore] that he had just then received in his office a notice from Sinn Féin of a motion calling on the Ceann Comhairle to resign.

“The Ceann Comhairle also assured Deputy Gilmore that the reports in the [ media] were in several respects inaccurate and misleading. He then requested that rather than do anything precipitous, that he would afford the Ceann Comhairle the opportunity of putting his case before the Oireachtas Commission the following evening.”

The memo states that Gilmore said he would think about what O’Donoghue had said and would phone back. Shortly after that Gilmore did come back and said he had spoken with a number of people. According to the memo, he did not think that O’Donoghue would survive – that “it was not looking good”. States the memo: “The Ceann Comhairle reiterated, with greater emphasis, that the press coverage of his information released . . . was in many respects incorrect and misleading.”

The memo says O’Donoghue asked again for an opportunity to put his case to the commission. “He pointed out that he was not asking for any special favour and was only asking for the same respect and rights as would be afforded to any citizen under the Constitution.

“He said that he was merely asking for natural justice and the right to be heard in his own defence.

“Deputy Gilmore said that he would ‘chew on it’ and that he would ring back. The conversation then ended. There were no further telephone calls,” it concludes.

Labour yesterday confirmed that there had been two conversations, the first of which had been initiated by O’Donoghue. However, the party said the content of the conversations were private, other than letting it be known that Gilmore left him in no doubt about his views but did not go into tactics.

It’s interesting that ‘the memo’ implies that O’Donoghue was tipping Gilmore to the Sinn Fein motion, when both conversations (O’Donoghue’s approach and Gilmore’s reply) at least an hour and a half after Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin had press conferenced his threat to put down such a motion.

In the event both Labour and Sinn Fein took the view that to push the matter into the secrecy of an eleven man Oireachtas Commission (containing four Senators and a senior civil servant) was an inappropriate place to deal with matters pertaining to the running of Dail Eireann. Rather both parties felt that this was a question for the Dail and the Dail alone.

In the end Fianna Fail might have been better advised to take the hit and let it lie. Whatever Mr O’Donoghue’s legitimate case for the defence, this was hardly the time to go on the attack. And to do it in such a way as to raise serious questions about the true extent of the Ceann Comhairle’s operational independence…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty