John Perry denies FG strategists expressed fears over controversies
Fine Gael TD gives evidence in legal action to set aside result of Sligo-Leitrim selection convention
Fine Gael deputy John Perry has told the High Court he was reassured by Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s promise that all sitting TDs would be allowed to contest the general election before he attended last October’s selection convention for the Sligo-Leitrim constituency.
Fine Gael deputy John Perry has told the High Court he never had any discussion with Fine Gael party strategists in which fears were expressed about his electoral strength following recent controversies about him.
He was being cross-examined on the second day of his action against the trustees of Fine Gael aimed at having the result of the party’s Sligo-Leitrim selection convention, at which he failed to be selected, set aside. He claims the convention on October 16th was fundamentally flawed, unlawful and involved serious irregularities.
Seamus Woulfe SC, for Fine Gael, pointed out to Mr Perry that an expert for the party would give evidence that his electoral strength may have been affected by controversies including his claims for mileage expenses and the hiring of his wife as a parliamentary assistant.
Mr Perry denied any controversy and said he employed his wife for 10 weeks after he resigned as a junior minister and she had also worked voluntarily for him for six months.
People in the current government employ their spouses as secretaries, he said. “I would not call that controversy.”
Micheál O’Higgins SC, for Mr Perry, objected to the line of questioning as a “backdoor attempt to have a cut at my client”.
Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said, if Mr Perry was to agree there was some controversy, the cross examination could move on without going into further detail.
Mr Perry agreed there was some controversy leading up to the party’s strategy committee meeting on how to fight the next election. He said he met Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran and Brian Hayes TD last January to discuss strategy in the constituency. He was asked was he retiring, he said “absolutely not” and suggested there should be three candidates in Sligo-Leitrim, the two sitting Sligo-based TDs (him and Tony McLouglin) and a third candidate from Leitrim. He denied he suggested there should only be two candidates. That was “not my style of politics” to effectively agree to a sitting colleague being deselected, he said.
He denied a claim by Mr Curran he threatened to run as an independent if he did not get a nomination.
Mr Woulfe said the recent selection convention attracted a large turnout as it could be described “in sporting parlance as the political group of death” with four strong candidates and only two nominations available.
Mr Perry agreed he was permitted have a representative to oversee the voting tables but had not nominated one on the night.
There were seven disputed votes at issue and Mr Perry lost by 10, the court has heard.
The court was told the claim that Ita Reynolds, a sister of Gerry Reynolds who was one of the two winning candidates at the convention, was seen by someone putting votes into the ballot box had been dealt with on the night by Mr Curran. Mr Curran had approached Ms Reynolds who told him she was doing it at the request of two elderly members.
Mr Perry said, while membership of Fine Gael is largely people in their 60s, 70s and 80s, it was “quite extraordinary” the people referred to by Ms Reynolds “would not walk from here to the door to cast their votes”. He had not seen this happening, it had been reported to him.
He also said he was “appalled my son was dealt with in such a violent way by the general secretary” on the night who had accused 15 year old Jude Perry of canvassing and told him to leave. He himself could take bullying but was very annoyed it happened to his son, he added.
Earlier, Mr Perry said he was reassured by Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s promise that all sitting TDs would be allowed to contest the general election before he attended last October’s selection convention for the Sligo-Leitrim constituency.
This is because that commitment had already been applied for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, who had been added to the ticket in Dublin North Central after failing to be selected at convention.
Mr Perry is continuing to give direct evidence in his legal action against the trustees of Fine Gael seeking that the result of the October 16th convention, at which he failed to be selected, be set aside because it was fundamentally flawed, unlawful and involved serious irregularities.
Mr Perry said the Taoiseach’s commitment arose out of a parliamentary party meeting on the fifth floor of Leinster House in December 2014 in the aftermath of Fine Gael having lost a large number of council seats in the local elections and a Seanad seat.
He said there was “quite a lot of tension” particularly over the impact of the party’s electoral strategy on those lost seats. There was also the issue with the requirement for 30 per cent gender balance and how that might lead to the deselection of sitting deputies.
The Taosieach said clearly that sitting TDs would be allowed contest the next election, he said, which was very well received by the meeting.
“I think it was very reassuring, I was delighted to hear it as it was the precedent I expected”, he said.
No sitting TDs have ever been denied the opportunity to seek a mandate since the foundation of the State, he said.
He believed this commitment had the effect on delegates voting at the Sligo- Leitrim convention in Drumshambo on October 16th of ensuring they were quite aware sitting deputies would be candidates. The main concern of delegates was to select a candidate from the Leitrim area, he said.
Mr Perry said he always believed there would be three candidates, two from Sligo and one from Leitrim.
Following the convention he met the Taoiseach but said he did not get any comfort from his response. Mr Perry sought a follow through from his December 2014 commitment that sitting TDs would be added to the ticket but was “very disappointed” and somewhat surprised by the response, including by the Taoiseach’s suggestion an opinion poll would be carried out in the constituency.
“He said he would look into it, he did not say yes or no”. He still had not received a decision on that matter.
He said he also spoke to a number of people on the Fine Gael national executive, which the court heard only adds people to the ticket on the proposal of the party leader (Taoiseach), and while they were supportive there was “nothing beyond that”.
Earlier Mr Perry said he was concerned the strategy adopted by the party for Sligo-Leitrim was designed in such a way to eliminate him.
He had no role in the meetings to devise this strategy although he was aware of it.
He tried to express his concern about it to Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran over a six month period but Mr Curran did not return his calls.
He regarded one of three options suggested in the strategy as “a stitch-up directive” which meant he could not win the selection.
The demographics of the constituency, particulary with the addition of part of Cavan to it, meant with a certain strategy he would “have no chance”.
The hearing continues.