D-Day for Donohoe as he faces Dáil over electoral spending declarations

Inside Politics: Varadkar and Sunak finally share a phonecall. Why the delay?

It’s D-Day for Paschal Donohoe today, as he faces the Dáil – again – to give an explanation of the revisions to his electoral spending declarations in 2016, and possibly 2020. Donohoe is due to make a statement at 3.50pm, after which he will answer questions from Opposition TDs. There is an expectation around Government that today should bring the controversy to a close, assuming Donohoe gives a complete and convincing explanation, and the deals with the questions in a comprehensive way. There is also a realisation that if he cannot do that, the situation will escalate quickly.

That is not, insiders believe, the probable outcome. But they concede that it is possible. It will be a moment of high drama in the Dáil. Here’s a piece from Jack Horgan-Jones setting out the background and what’s at stake.

And on the op-ed pages, Gerard Howlin has some reflections, not entirely complimentary of Fine Gael.

And last Friday’s catch-up podcast has a summary of events if you’ve missed them so far.


‘Under the arm’

Before all that, the Cabinet gathers this morning for the weekly meeting. The agenda circulating yesterday was pretty light, but Jennifer Bray has news of a memo expected to be brought in “under the arm” (ie, not circulated among Ministers for their comments/views beforehand) by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly which will ask for Government approval to end patient charges in hospital. At present, patients without medical cards can be charged €80 a day for a stay in hospital, up to a maximum of €800 a year.

Last year, the Government abolished charges for under 16s, and today’s proposed move is part of the changes recommended in the Sláintecare plan, which proposes to replace the current public-private mix in hospitals with a public-only system that will see private care moved out of public hospitals over time. The patient charges will be replaced by State funding.

Combined with the recently concluded new contract for hospital consultants – which Donnelly intends to commence shortly, despite the doctors’ organisations not having yet given their consent – it means that the Sláintecare agenda is progressing, albeit slowly. We are still a long way from the complete separation of public and private healthcare, which is the plan’s avowed goal. But Donnelly is chipping away, in fairness. It’s our lead this morning.

The Government is also likely to unveil details of a new €50 million fund which will channel investment in community facilities to places where Ukrainian refugees are concentrated. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of this, but there’ll be more detail today.

We also have details this morning of a phone call between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Rishi Sunak, which finally took place yesterday evening – more than a month after Varadkar returned to the Taoiseach’s office.

Wonder why the delay? Anyway, relations between the two governments are immeasurably better than they were when Boris Johnson was in 10 Downing St (though things began to improve a bit when Liz Truss took over, would you believe) and both Dublin and London are talking the language of agreed solutions to the problem of the Northern Ireland protocol. Varadkar has been going out of his way to make soothing noises to unionists. Though it remains to be seen if the DUP will accept a deal between the EU and UK that falls short of its demands. You suspect that if they do, it won’t be because Varadkar is being nice to them all of a sudden.

Best reads

There’s lots of fallout from the report published yesterday into the shortcomings of child mental health services, something sure to be raised in the Dáil today.

Fintan O’Toole on the developers who build dodgy apartments.

Derek Scally reports from Berlin on chancellor Olaf Scholz’s agonising over sending tanks to help Ukraine, as pressure grows throughout the EU for the move.

The squeeze on refugee accommodation continues to grow.


Cabinet meets at Government Buildings this morning with a light enough agenda but including some of the proposals discussed above. Leaders’ Questions kicks off the week in the Dáil at 2pm, followed by the weekly order of business and then oral questions (pre-submitted) to the Taoiseach. Then it’s Donohoe’s turn to face the music, followed by Government legislation which will introduce automatic organ donation with an opt-out. Later, Sinn Féin have a Private Members’ motion on the Coillte plan to partner with a UK investment fund to buy land to plant trees.

The plan has aroused opposition from farmers and the Opposition, and there is significant nervousness about it around Government. The Taoiseach is likely to hear about it when he attends the IFA AGM later, too. Anyway, the motion is followed this evening by questions to the Minister for Finance Michael McGrath, and topical issues bring proceedings in the Dáil to a close after 11.30pm. Long day.

The Seanad has a somewhat more gentlemanly schedule. A bit of windbagging about the issues of the day, calling for debates on this and that. Then a few hours of Government legislation – in this instance, the Bill necessary to transfer the National Symphony Orchestra from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall. Skin and hair flying, there will not be.

Several committees are meeting in private session. Of those that are not, the justice committee will hear from the vintners, the craft brewers, the nightclubbers and the Department of Justice on proposed changes to the licensing laws. This might not be as jolly as it sounds – rural pubs have serious objections to the proposals.

Elsewhere the housing, autism and environment committees are all holding open hearings. Full details here and you’ll find reports throughout the day on irishtimes.com.