Fine Gael official denies ‘sinister corruption’ of party selection convention

John Perry TD claims serious irregularities in Fine Gael Sligo-Leitrim ballot

A Fine Gael official has denied there was any "sinister corrupting" of the democratic process in relation to the party's selection convention for Sligo-Leitrim.

Darragh Kelly, regional organiser and returning officer on the night of the convention, was under cross-examination on the fourth day of local Deputy John Perry's action against his Fine Gael party claiming the convention result, at which he failed to win a nomination, should be set aside and a new convention held.

He claims there were serious irregularities in the conduct of the convention in the Mayflower Ballroom in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, on the night of October 16th, when two candidates were selected to contest Sligo-Leitrim for Fine Gael.

Mr Perry claims there should be three candidates and says he is entitled to stand, given a commitment made by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny at a parliamentary party meeting last December that no sitting TD would be stopped from running.


During cross-examination by Micheál P O’Higgins SC, for Mr Perry, it was put to Mr Kelly that, as returning officer he operated two, or multiple, registers in which voters at the convention were marked off.

Mr Kelly replied he was not running two registers and also said no registers were withheld from Mr Perry’s side.

“Myself and my legal team complied with all requests (to disclose documents),” he said.

Asked why both versions of a certain statement had not been provided to Mr Perry’s side as part of the legal disclosure process, he said that was because one of them was a draft.

The first of those statements contained a reference that it was "suggested by (Fine Gael general secretary) Tom Curran to remove two votes", and Mr Kelly had said he would not do that "as a matter of conscience."

Pressed on why it was not contained in the second version of his statement, he said it was a draft but he also did not “wish to impugn the general secretary or his character”.

He stressed the word “suggested” had been used in the original statement.

Mr O’Higgins said what had happened was a “sinister corrupting of the democratic process”. Mr Kelly replied that “no corruption took place”.

He added: “I didn’t carry out that deed or action.”

Earlier, Mr Kelly told Fine Gael counsel Seamus Woulfe, he accepted that there were irregularities in a small number of votes but they were the result of impersonation or due to genuine errors on the night.

He also disputed the convention was disorderly and said he had ensured it would be marshalled and run in as orderly manner as possible.

It was claimed by Mr Perry that the convention was quite disorderly because of the number of people, around 800-900, at what was an unsuitable and congested venue.

Mr Kelly said the decision to use this venue was taken by the local organisation based on geography and budget and because it had been previously used in the last convention for the constituency in 1996.

While there were efforts to move people into the main hall, he “would not call it chaotic or out of control”.

He also said if the court was to order a new convention it would demotivate and disenfranchise members including because those who voted the first time may not be available to do so at a second convention.

He said the court challenge had meant the general election campaign was in abeyance in terms of organising posters, literature and teams of canvassers.

This has led to frustration among candidates and members and also provided an opportunity for the party’s opponents to take advantage of the situation, he said.

Meath East Fine Gael TD Helen McEntee told the court the Taoiseach did not give any commitment at last year's parliamentary party meeting that all sitting TDs would be allowed to run in the general election.

Ms McEntee, who acted as secretary and marked off those in attendance at that meeting, said she had no record of Mr Perry being there.

While she did not take a note of what the Taoiseach said, she said his comments were in the context of a long conversation and the effect which the imposition gender quotas would have.

The Taoiseach did not mention the word convention but she took it to mean the same thing: that no sitting TD would be prevented from running at convention.

Had the Taoiseach said no TD would be prevented from running in the general election, she would have taken a note of that because that was different from running at convention.

The case resumes on Monday.