Sipo finds against two councillors over RTÉ undercover report

Joe Queenan and John O’Donnell both breached Local Government Act - watchdog

Sligo councillor Joe Queenan was secretly filmed by the RTÉ Investigations unit. File image: RTÉ.

Sligo councillor Joe Queenan was secretly filmed by the RTÉ Investigations unit. File image: RTÉ.

 

Two county councillors who were at the centre of an undercover RTÉ investigation more than three years ago have had a number of findings made against them by the Stanards in Public Office Commisison (Sipo).

Sligo councillor Joe Queenan and Donegal’s John O’Donnell were filmed for the RTÉ Investigates programme holding discussions with an undecover reporter purporting to be a wind farm investor.

In the case of Mr Queenan, Sipo found that he contravened the Local Government Act in three different instances, such as maintaining proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest.

The case involving Mr Queenan centred around contacts he had with a reporter using the alias Nina Carlsson who claimed to represent an investment company called Vinst Opprtunities.

Mr Queenan had three telephone calls and one meeting with the reporter, which were all secretly recorded.

In the course of their engagements, Mr Queenan said he had a “good business head” and provided information on the potential difficulties that may arise in the planning process in Co Sligo for wind farms.

“He indicated that he would do some lobbying behind the scenes with Sligo County Council for the potential investor, provided that this was realistic,” the Sipo report said. “He agreed to liaise with the potential investor’s experts.”

‘Out on my ear’

While he said he was not looking for money - and said he “would be out on my ear straight away” if he was seen to be doing so - he later asked the reporter: “But maybe down the road, because I am in business myself what I might have some business project coming up, you might be, some of your clients might be interested in investing with me in a project maybe you know something like that. I am just talking off the top of my head now, right.”

He then outlined a potential investment opportunity relating to the development of an agri-feed business in Enniscrone, Sligo. “That is where you, that way you could help me. If it ever comes to it, right.”

Sipo found Mr Queenan made a”a significant error in allowing the discussion in respect of assistance with a potential investment in County Sligo in his capacity as councillor to also develop into a discussion about potential investment in his business in his capacity as a private individual and business person”.

Sipo said that Cllr John O’Donnell from Donegal ‘conflated his roles as councillor and businessman’.
Sipo said that Cllr John O’Donnell from Donegal ‘conflated his roles as councillor and businessman’.

Mr O’Donnell also had engagements with the same reporter purporting to be Ms Carlsson from Vinst Opportunities. He had a telephone call and a meeting with the reporter in November 2015, both of which were secretly recorded.

“When asked by the undercover reporter whether he would be in a position to assist with the planning process, Councillor O’Donnell stated that he was a developer and business person himself and that, in contrast to many of his colleagues on Donegal County Council, was supportive of appropriate developments,” the Sipo report said. “He indicated that, for such developments, having a local person such as himself working with Donegal County Council on the pre-planning process would be ‘massive advantage’.”

‘More supportive’

When he asked if he could help with the zoning of land, he told the reporter he could “lobby the other councillors to be more supportive of wind farm development”.

Sipo found that Mr O’Donnell said there would be no cost “to the investment company for his initial scoping work but that future work would require something in return and this would be paid through his solicitor”.

It found that he “conflated his roles as councillor and businessman and used his position as councillor in order to promote his private interests as a businessman”.

Sipo found that he contravened the Local Government Act on three different occasions, including failing to “have regard to and be guided by the Code of Conduct for Councillors”.

This article has been amended.