Councillor faces inquiry after complaints of ‘racist’ election material

Standards in Public Office Commission holds hearing into material from Séamus Treanor

An Independent councillor from Co Monaghan is facing an inquiry following complaints that election material he distributed in 2019 was “racist, dangerous and xenophobic”.

The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) held a hearing on Monday following the complaints against Cllr Séamus Treanor and the referral of the matter to Sipo by the council.

The inquiry is investigating whether material distributed during the May 2019 local election contravened the code of conduct for councillors and sections of the Local Government Act 2001.

In the election material Mr Treanor said he had no problem with people coming into the country if they could support their families and if they obeyed the laws and customs of the country.

"Unfortunately our political elite in Ireland – FF/FG/SF – and their masters in Europe have encouraged uncontrolled migration into this country," he said.

The councillor’s election literature said that up to 92 per cent of the asylum seekers coming into the country were “bogus” and that they “abused our free legal aid system to extend their stay at huge expense to the taxpayer.”

The councillor also said he strongly objected to “criminals” coming into the country without background checks, and to the allocation of 22 houses to “economic migrants” who had “never served a day” on the housing list in Co Monaghan. He said this had been done on the instructions of the Department of Justice.

Tone of material

The commission hearing was addressed by legal adviser Brian Gageby BL who said there had been complaints that the material was “racist, dangerous and xenophobic”.

He said Mr Treanor had a right of free speech and it was no function of Sipo to decide if views were right or wrong but rather whether they were in breach of the code.

The commission could consider whether the claims were factually accurate and also the tone of the material.

Mr Gageby outlined how a claim in the material that people from the EU could claim social welfare benefits 72 hours after arriving here was incorrect.

Evidence was heard from John Murray, director of services with Monaghan County Council, that it had been directed by the Department of Justice to house 90 refugees from Syria under the Irish refugee programme.

Twenty families had been housed, with 11 being housed under the approved housing programme, and nine under the housing assistance payment scheme.

No council houses had been used. It was correct that “11 slots” on the housing list had been pushed down so the refugees could be housed using the approved housing programme. The people housed were refugees and not economic migrants.

‘Bogus’ applications

Mr Gageby also gave figures to the hearing indicating that the figure for allegedly bogus asylum applications was higher, and in some instances very substantially higher, than official estimates.

He said the councillor “has a right to express unpopular views” but the commission might consider whether the inaccuracies in the material, combined with its tone, constituted a breach of the code and the Act.

Solicitor Barry Healy, for the councillor, said his client’s opinions were “a matter to be corrected by his political opponents, and not by Sipo”.

At the outset of the hearing the commission ruled that barrister Brian Carroll could not address the hearing on behalf of Mr Treanor, as Mr Carroll was not on the roll of barristers kept by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority.

The commission chairman, Mr Justice Garret Sheehan, said Mr Healy would be given two weeks to make written submissions, after which Mr Gageby would be given a week to respond. The meeting was then adjourned.