Fianna Fáil councillor resigns from party over RTÉ programme
Joe Queenan filmed offering to act as an intermediary in return for an investment
A Fianna Fáil councillor has resigned from the party after he was filmed offering to act as an intermediary for a company in return for an investment in an agricultural business he was planning.
Sligo-based councillor Joe Queenan featured on an RTÉ Investigates programme on Monday night which examined political lobbying.
As part of the programme, RTÉ reporters established a fake wind farm company and approached a number of councillors. Mr Queenan was recorded offering to act as an intermediary for a company in return for an investment in an agri-feed business he was planning.
While Mr Queenan did not return calls on Monday, Fianna Fáil announced he had resigned from the party. Only Mr Queenan can resign his actual council seat.
One party source said Mr Queenan had no choice following the broadcast.
Another councillor featured on the programme is alleged to have demanded £10,000 sterling for help with planning issues, but accused the national broadcaster of setting him up.
Monaghan councillor Hugh McElvaney, who was a Fine Gael member until he became an Independent this month, claimed yesterday he knew he was being set up by RTÉ.
Mr McElvaney was director of elections for local deputy Sean Conlan in the 2011 general election, and they both claimed to have resigned from Fine Gael in recent weeks over the issue of pylons in the county.
The RTÉ Investigates programme aired a recording of Mr McElvaney demanding £10,000 sterling from an undercover reporter acting for a fake wind farm company and seeking help with planning issues.
He is heard asking for “sterling on the table”.
“What’s in it for me?” Mr McElvaney is heard asking. “What are you putting on the table for me?”
When the reporters asked what he had in mind, he said “£10,000 would be a start, a nice little figure isn’t it?” He warned her that it had to be “utterly confidential. If you let me down there’ll be war.”
He said he knew the telephone call was from an undercover reporter the minute it began but said he let it continue to play along, otherwise there “would be no show”.
“I wouldn’t have the opportunity of showing RTÉ up, our State broadcaster, for what they are,” he said. “It was dirty tricks on behalf of somebody.”
A second councillor, Independent John O’Donnell from Donegal, accused RTÉ of “entrapping” him during an investigation in which they claim he asked for money for help with a wind farm development.
The Kilmacrennan politician is filmed being interviewed by a bogus wind farm company, Vinst Opportunities, which was set up by an RTÉ investigation team as part of the programme.
In a statement, Mr O’Donnell said the national broadcaster had sought to entrap him by offering him cash as part of what he described as a “gross deception”.
Mr O’Donnell said he was now seeking legal advice on the “sting operation” which took place in Letterkenny’s Radisson Hotel last month.
The Donegal politician revealed: “I was contacted on November 3rd, 2015, in my capacity as a businessman and a public representative by a lady who told me that her name was ‘Nina Carlsson’.”
“I understood from Ms Carlsson that I was being contacted, primarily, in my capacity as a businessman, and, secondly, in my capacity as a public representative.
“ I would like to state that I was shocked and disappointed to learn of the deception that had been visited upon me by the means of a person who turns out to be an undercover reporter for the RTÉ Investigations Unit, falsely signifying to me that she was a representative of a foreign investment vehicle that was considering investing millions in Co Donegal on behalf of several investors, when, in fact, the investment vehicle in question was a fiction conceived by the RTÉ Investigations Unit with the clear intent of tricking me as a businessman.
“Secondly, I take grave exception to [a] clear effort of RTÉ to mislead me into engaging in behaviour that they describe as being potentially inconsistent with the proper performance of my functions as a county councillor for Donegal County Council. ”
Mr O’Donnell said it was a shame RTÉ had chosen not to use its resources to focus on ways to generate economic interest in the region.
“I reserve all of my legal rights in relation to this matter, and in particular to seek damages from RTÉ for my financial losses.”
The programme also outlined how two TDs and two Senators did not disclose that they were company directors in their declaration of interests, while a further two TDs failed to disclose properties they owned.
Five county councillors investigated by the programme also failed in declaring all their interests.
The programme team investigated declarations by the State’s 949 councillors, 166 TDs, 60 Senators and 11 MEPs.
“We investigated every single politician in the country, regardless of political party,” said reporter Conor Ryan.
They found breaches of the declaration requirement were “widespread”.
Undercover reporter ‘Nina’, fronting for a fake wind farm company, approached councillors for help with planning, on a confidential basis.
RTÉ has issued a statement saying it stands over the programme and acted with integrity at all times in their investigations.
The statement said: “The RTÉ Investigations Unit was very careful to act with integrity at all times in the production of this programme.
“RTÉ’s legal affairs department has scrutinised the conversations carefully and, both legally and editorially, RTÉ is entirely satisfied that we acted appropriately and in the public interest.
“This programme performs an important public service to the people of Donegal and the people of Ireland in revealing the conflicts of interest that Councillor O’Donnell and others are willing to entertain in the performance of their public duties.”