Stepping down: former Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue makes his resignation speech in the Dáil on Tuesday

JOHN O'Donoghue wrote to the attorney general and his former colleagues at the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism alleging that details of a six-day odyssey he took on board the government jet while minister had been "effectively leaked" to the media.

O'Donoghue, who stepped down last week after months of controversy about his overseas travel as a minister and Ceann Comhairle, asked that, in future, all information released under Freedom of Information legislation should pass through him first.

The letter was sent to Attorney General Paul Gallagher and Con Haugh, the secretary general of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

As a result, further details of O'Donoghue's previous travel as a minister were given to him before being publicly released, even though the department had no obligation to do this.

The correspondence concerned an embarrassing document that was released to the Sunday Tribune detailing six consecutive days of travel aboard the government jet.

Written by O'Donoghue's private secretary, Therese O'Connor, it requested use of the government's Learjet to ferry the minister from the Cannes film festival back to a constituency event in Kerry.

From there, the jet travelled to Cardiff for a Heineken Cup rugby match, before heading back to Cannes for the rest of the film festival.

The jet then flew to London for a Ryder Cup promotional event before returning to Kerry in a trip that is estimated to have cost the taxpayer in the region of €32,450.

The letter, which was written on official stationery from the Ceann Comhairle's office, was also copied to the attorney general and the Department of Finance.

O'Donoghue wrote: "It has come to my attention that the letter from my former private secretary to Mr Nick Reddy, private secretary to An Taoiseach, was not part of the official FoI release from your department, copies of which were sent to my office.

"I have to say that I am extremely concerned if it proves to be the case that this material was effectively leaked to the media in the context of an overall statutory request under FoI.

"I would appreciate it if you would have the matter examined as a matter of urgency.

"I would also appreciate it if, in respect of the release of any further information pending under other FoI requests or in the future, that copies would be forwarded to the private secretary to the Ceann Comhairle as a courtesy prior to, or simultaneously with, its release to the media concerned.

"You will appreciate my concern in this matter and that I feel it necessary to write to you."

The letter was sent from the Ceann Comhairle's office just five days after details of the six-day government jet trip had been published in the Sunday Tribune.

Two weeks earlier, hundreds of pages of documents concerning O'Donoghue's overseas travel had been released following an FoI request, covering the years 2006 and 2007.

A subsequent request for information relating to the period between 2002 and 2005 yielded just four pages and included none of the detail which had previously proved so embarrassing to the Ceann Comhairle. The letter came as O'Donoghue declined to make any comment on his overseas travel expenditure, saying that his position as Ceann Comhairle put him beyond politics.

Under a separate request through Freedom of Information legislation since then, the Sunday Tribune requested all correspondence from O'Donoghue to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism regarding his expenses.

The O'Donoghue letter was among the documents released but access to an email sent from the office of the attorney general to the department's general secretary on 7 August has been refused.

'No reason to believe' there was a leak

The document has not been disclosed because communications from certain bodies, including the attorney general, are exempt under the act.

On 11 August, the department's secretary general, Con Haugh, wrote back to O'Donoghue to say he did not believe there had been any leak.

"I arranged for an examination of the matters raised in your letter and I can confirm that the letter from your then private secretary to the private secretary to the taoiseach was, in fact, included in the papers released to the journalist," Haugh wrote.

"This letter was incorporated with the copy of the itinerary for the visit to the Cannes film festival in 2006.

"In the circumstances, I have no reason to believe that there was a leak of any material to the media in the context of the FoI request – a point reinforced by the content of the letter in question which, in my view, sets out a rationale for the use of the government jet and the benefits of the overseas programme involved.

"As regards the release of further information pending under other FoI requests, I can confirm that, as a matter of courtesy to a former minister, I have made arrangements to provide copies of such public records relevant to you, to your private secretary simultaneously with its release to the FoI requester.

"Should you wish to discuss any aspect of this issue with me, I would be happy to oblige."

In other documents, it then emerged that the government jet letter had been inadvertently included in the original material.

An internal memo written by the FoI officer said: "I was under the impression that a copy of the letter had not formed part of the documentation released under FoI... However, following a detailed review yesterday of all of the records that I had released, I discovered that a copy of this letter had been appended to the itinerary for the visit by the minister to the Cannes film festival in 2006."

In a handwritten note appended to that memo regarding the future release of documents, secretary general Con Haugh admitted there was "no obligation" to pass them on to O'Donoghue.

However, he said the department planned to do it anyway because O'Donoghue was a "former minister".

Haugh wrote: "In future we should, as a matter of course, provide to the Ceann Comhairle a copy of documents which are being released under the FoI Act.

"I recognise that there is no obligation on us to provide such information but as a former minister, it would be appropriate to do so."

There was no further correspondence between the department and O'Donoghue's office until 11 September 2009 when another tranche of information was about to be released under the FoI Act to the Sunday Tribune.

Four pages of documents for a €400 fee

This time, despite paying more than €400 in fees, just four pages of documents were released, providing only a table of costs and not including any specific bills.

Details of what hotels were used, what class of flights were booked, and what car hire firms were used were not included this time.

However, even these figures proved damaging, bringing the total cost of O'Donoghue's five years in office to €550,000 including air fares, lodgings, the government jet and car hire.

On 11 September, the Ceann Comhairle's private secretary wrote to the department's secretary general seeking copies of all documentation that would be released.

"The Ceann Comhairle has asked me to request that you would furnish him with all records released to the media and newspapers in respect of his tenure of office as minister," the letter said.

"The Ceann Comhairle has specifically requested that the copies be collated in such a way as to indicate the records that were issued to the particular requester in the media or newspaper concerned."

A week later, the department wrote back, saying: "The secretary general has asked me to acknowledge receipt of your letter... regarding the provision to the Ceann Comhairle of copies of records released to the media in respect of his tenure of office as minister at this department.

"The secretary general has asked me to confirm that he will arrange to have this request complied with."

Sinn Féin urges transparency

Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh said government ministers and other people in high office would not have to concern themselves with "leaking" of information if all such travel costs were openly available, as they should be.

"If ministers' expenses and associated costs were transparent in the first place, then John O'Donoghue or any other minister or person in high office wouldn't have to be worried about a department 'leaking' information on them," he said.

"The only solution to the whole issue of ministerial expenses is that legislation is passed which would require an annual account of monies spent and costs incurred by ministers and an explanation as to why and how it was incurred, to be laid with the Standards in Public Office Commission and available for inspection by the public.

"If it is public monies being spent, the public should have a right to know how it is spent."

The letter which the former Ceann Comhairle believes was "leaked" to the Sunday Tribune proved contentious as it detailed a request for the government jet to attend a constituency event and a Heineken Cup rugby match.

It appears to contradict some of the former Ceann Comhairle's assertions that he had absolutely nothing to do with travel arrangements made on his behalf.

Written by his private secretary Therese O'Connor, it said: "For some considerable time and following two previously cancelled dates, minister O'Donoghue, accompanied by minister Brian Cowen, is scheduled to participate in a series of events in Kerry on Friday 19 May.

"To facilitate this day's activities going ahead, with both ministers present, it will be necessary to avail of Ministerial Air Transport Service.

"In addition to all of [the] above, following the Munster team's recent win over Leinster in the rugby Heineken Cup, minister O'Donoghue has been invited by the IRFU to attend the cup final on Saturday 20 May in Cardiff.

"As minister with responsibility for sport and tourism, this is an important opportunity to showcase Ireland overseas and accordingly minister O'Donoghue is keen to avail of this occasion."