John O'Donoghue: expenses

Former minister John O'Donoghue spent €472 on a limousine to take him from Terminal 3 in Heathrow airport to Terminal 1 – a journey which would have taken three minutes on the airport's free shuttle service.

A car-hire firm, which has been at the centre of controversy this week over its Fianna Fáil links, made the charge for 24 January 2006 after John and Kate-Ann O'Donoghue arrived back at London Heathrow from their now notorious trip to India.

The minister and his wife had a connecting flight to Dublin in a separate terminal of the airport two hours later and the €472.21 limousine was made available for their use.

The owner of the car-hire firm involved has told the Sunday Tribune that there was no "old boys' club" involved in his dealings with the Irish government.

Terry Gallagher, whose father Denis was a Fianna Fáil minister for the Gaeltacht, has been the subject of controversy over at least €21,761 charged to the Irish taxpayer for ferrying former arts minister John O'Donoghue around England.

It has now emerged that Gallagher's firm Cartel has been working on behalf of the Irish embassy for more than a decade.

However, Gallagher said that while he had made good use of his Fianna Fáil connections to help set up his business, it had no bearing on the arrangement since.

"In this business, you use your contacts to get in wherever you can," he said. "I did use a networking opportunity to get to talk to the Irish embassy, which I have done with other embassies here.

"I have no problem discussing this at all. We are probably the foremost supplier of car services in London. My connections might have been of some use to start with but it's all about getting up in the morning and doing the job afterwards.

"For the record, if you look at our company accounts, we turned over close on £2m last year and the Irish embassy contribution to that was less than 5%.

"There is no old boys' club or anything going on here. I have nothing to hide here in any of this," he added.

"My business dealing is with the embassy in London and has nothing to do with Fianna Fáil.

"For the record, the Fine Gael office in Dublin has an account with us and we also provided cars for the Fine Gael administration through the embassy in London. There is nothing sinister here."

Controversy first arose over Gallagher's links to Fianna Fáil after the Sunday Tribune revealed how a private driver was hired to ferry O'Donoghue around Cheltenham for five days in 2007 at a cost of €1,400 per day.

Documents obtained by this newspaper also reveal that on a visit to the UK the previous year, hotel costs had to be paid for O'Donoghue's driver at a cost of €459.51.

On that occasion, the bill charged by Gallagher's company for airport pick-ups came to €7,591.06 according to the expense sheets.

Gallagher said he was not at liberty to discuss the exact details of O'Donoghue's travel arrangements but that the costs had been skewed by poor exchange rates and VAT.

He said: "I have a duty of discretion to my clients. I have nothing to hide with regard to my Fianna Fáil background. I am who I am...

"I was in business before John O'Donoghue came to government and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."