Councillor admits meeting with ‘blonde bombshell’ was ‘not my finest hour’

Joe Queenan filmed by undercover reporter discussing purported project for county Sligo

A Sligo councillor has described as "not my finest hour" a conversation in which he discussed a possible €200,000 business investment with an undercover reporter from RTÉ purporting to seek advice from him about the planning process.

"I was eating chocolate biscuits and I had a blonde bombshell in front of me," Joe Queenan told a investigation hearing held by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).

The hearing was shown footage of a meeting in the Southern Hotel, Sligo, on November 4th, 2015, during which a woman who said her name was Nina Carlson told Mr Queenan she was from Iceland and was acting for a London-based investment company interested in possible wind farm ventures.

The interview was set up for an RTÉ Investigates programme broadcast in December 2015. Ms Carlson was not the real name of the woman and her true identity was not revealed at the hearing.

Mr Queenan, when asked, said he wanted nothing in return for helping Ms Carlson, but later said that maybe “down the road” the investors might want to invest in an agri-business venture he was considering. A sum of €200,000 was mentioned.

“Whether it was the lady or the chocolate biscuits, I got carried away a small bit. It was below my standards and I apologise,” he told the Sipo hearing.

Mr Queenan is a former chairman of Sligo County Council and the Sligo GAA county board. He was formerly a Fianna Fáil councillor but is now an independent.

He told the hearing he was “entrapped” by the programme and had gone to the meeting in the hotel solely to encourage investment. “There’s no question about it. She was flirting. I lost my concentration.”

RTÉ’s Conor Ryan rejected a suggestion he might have suggested to Ms Carlson she show more cleavage during the meeting in the Sligo hotel.

Barrister Michael O’Connor, for Mr Queenan, questioned Mr Ryan about what he said to Ms Carlson while speaking with her by way of an ear piece during the secretly recorded meeting. He asked if Mr Ryan had said you “need to pull down the blouse a bit” during the interview.

Mr Ryan said the suggestion that while acting in a professional capacity you would ask a woman to undo her blouse was offensive.

“There was flirtation going on, and you were in her ear,” Mr O’Connor said. “We’re all grown-ups here... She’s a very attractive lady.”

During a later phone call, which was also taped, Mr Queenan said to Ms Carlson: “I trust I’m not being taped in any way. I trust you are being as frank and honest as I am being with you?”

“Yes, I am,” the undercover reporter responded.

Sipo is examining whether Mr Queenan breached the code that governs local authority members. John O'Donnell (independent) of Donegal Co Council, who also featured in the same RTÉ programme, is to appear before Sipo on Tuesday.