Sligo and Donegal councils to examine issues from RTÉ programme

Donegal inquiry to be carried out as an ‘issue of urgency and priority’ after councillor featured

Donegal County Council is to examine allegations made against one of its councillors in an RTÉ programme on political lobbying ‘as an issue of urgency and priority’

Donegal County Council is to examine allegations made against one of its councillors in an RTÉ programme on political lobbying ‘as an issue of urgency and priority’

 

Donegal and Sligo County Councils are to review isses raised in an RTÉ programme on political lobbying

Donegal council said it will to examine the allegations against one of its councillors “as an issue of urgency and priority”.

The RTÉ Investigates: Standards in Public Office programme featured one Donegal councillor, John O’Donnell, asking for money to help with a wind farm development.

Mr O’Donnell has accused RTÉ of “entrapping” him during the investigation and said he was seeking legal advice on what he called the “sting operation” in Letterkenny’s Radisson Hotel last month.

In a statement this afternoon, Donegal County Council said the issues raised in the programme will be investigated with the ethics registrar in the council.

“Donegal County Council wishes to confirm that the matters raised in the programme are being examined as an issue of urgency and priority,” the statement said. “This examination is being conducted in the first instance by the ethics registrar in the council.

“The examination will be conducted in accordance with the provisions of Part 15 of the Local Government Act, 2001 - Ethical Framework for the Local Government Service, and the code of conduct for councillors, and any matters arising from this examination will be processed in line with the provisions as set down.

“Pending the conclusion of this examination, the council will not be making any further statements at this time.”

‘Confidential’ meeting

In another statement released on Tuesday afternoon, Mr O’Donnell claimed the recorded meeting between him and an undercover RTÉ reporter was “misrepresented to me by the national broadcaster as a ‘confidential’ meeting with me as a businessman and public representative”.

“It is my view that RTÉ have failed in their statutory obligation to provide a balanced report and instead have provided an edited version to serve their own sensationalist agenda.

“The reference to a payment was, for the sake of clarity, on the basis that I, as a businessman, might be participating in any project that materialised from work that I would be completing as a businessman, and any payment for such work would be dealt with by a professional team that I would be putting together, and strictly in accordance with the law and the applicable ethical disclosure procedures.

“Any reference to a payment to a third party was made in that context, however I must add was done so without that third party’s knowledge, consent or agreement which I accept was incorrect and inappropriate.

“This position was made clear to RTÉ and accepted by RTÉ.

“l further confirm that l did indicate that I could influence the county’s zoning policy and lobby other county councillors to be more supportive of wind farm development.

“However, I believe that is clearly within my mandate as a public representative. For the sake of clarity, my estimation of garnering the support of between 25-30 other members was an opinion which may or may not have materialised depending obviously on the particular project.”

Sligo County Council

Sligo County Council also confirmed its ethics registrar is conducting an review to the issues surrounding Mr Queenan.

In a statement, the council said the issues in the programme are a matter for Mr Queenan in the first instance.

“The Council’s Ethics Registrar is presently conducting a review in accordance with the provisions of the Local Government Act and the Code of Conduct for Councillors,” it added. “Further consideration will be given to the issues on completion of the “review, at which point a further statement will issue.

Act as intermediary

Also arising from the programme, a Fianna Fáil councillor 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.

Joe Queenan confirmed that though he had stepped down from Fianna Fáil, he will keep his Sligo County Council seat.

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 the fictitious company in return for an investment in an agrifeed business he was planning.

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 was director of elections for local TD Seán Conlan in the 2011 general election, and they both resigned from Fine Gael in recent weeks, stating the reason was to do with the issue of pylons.

In the programme, Cllr McElvaney is heard asking the reporter: “What’s in it for me?”

When she asks what he has in mind, he says: “£10,000 would be a start”. He warns her it has to be “utterly confidential - if you let me down, there’ll be war”.

On Shannonside Radio on Monday, Mr McElvaney said: “I knew I was being set up . . . I lured her [the reporter] into my trap.”

He said he knew the telephone call was from an undercover reporter, but said he let it continue to play along, otherwise there “would be no show”.

The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) released a statement on Tuesday evening in which it said “it would not be appropriate to comment on individual cases”.

However, SIPO said it wanted to “set out in general terms the position concerning the investigation of alleged contraventions of ethics legislation by elected representatives”.

It said it has consistently called for “the enactment of a single comprehensive piece of legislation” on ethics to apply across the public sector.

‘Ethics frameworks are complex’

“The Standards Commission has recognised for some time that the various statutory ethics frameworks are complex and overlapping and can hamper the investigation of alleged contraventions.

“However, the Standards Commission has and will continue to examine and, where appropriate, investigate all complaints properly made to it to the fullest extent possible.

“It has sought additional powers to appoint an inquiry officer where no complaint has been received. “