Sligo councillor claims he was victim of RTÉ ‘hatchet job’

Joe Queenan, who resigned from Fianna Fáil, says he will not give up council seat

The Sligo county councillor filmed offering to act as an intermediary for a company in return for an investment in an agricultural business has again insisted he will not be resigning his seat.

Councillor Joe Queenan resigned from Fianna Fáil following the broadcast of the RTÉ Investigates: Standards in Public Office programme on Monday.

On Wednesday, he apologised for failing to complete his statutory declaration for 2015 correctly, and for mentioning the potential investment in an agri-feed business he was planning.

In a statement, the Enniscrone-based councillor insisted “the edited footage does not give a fair and honest account” of the conversation between himself and the undercover RTÉ reporter.

He denied he had sought investment in return for helping the fictitious company with the planning process.

‘Impartial’ application

Mr Queenan said that on at least 13 occasions he had told the reporter the planning application was an impartial one and he could not guarantee her company success.

He said that on at least 14 occasions he told her he did not want money. He said that in the course of their conversation, he had told her “it will cost you nothing” and that he would work with her company “free gratis and for nothing”.

In an interview on Ocean FM radio, Mr Queenan said it had been an error on his part to mention a possible investment in a business and he wanted to apologise for that, but claimed he had been entrapped. “I was led in that direction,” he said.

Mr Queenan said there was no plan in place for this business. “I was speaking in a hypothetical situation. I am sorry I ever brought it up and I apologise to the people for saying that. It was an error on my behalf.”

The councillor insisted this had nothing to do with the planning process and he said he had not looked for any inducement or benefit.

He said he had agreed to meet the undercover reporter for 10 minutes in the foyer of the Sligo Park Hotel “for courtesy’s sake really to see what she was talking about”, but RTÉ moved the meeting to a room in another hotel.

In his statement he said: “I wanted to meet this lady in a public place and it was RTÉ who arranged that the meeting take place behind closed doors.”

He had gone to the meeting to discuss future investment in the west Sligo area “and with no intention of looking for anything”.

Apology on two grounds

Asked why he had resigned from the party, Mr Queenan said he was a sinner like most people, and he was apologising for an error on two grounds - for not completing his ethics form properly and for mentioning the potential business.

In relation to his resignation from Fianna Fail, he said he had a three-minute phone call with the general secretary, and they had agreed it would be in the best interests of the party for him to resign until he had an opportunity to clear his name.

Pressed on why he was not resigning from the council, Mr Queenan said the people would decide his fate at the next local election. “They will be the adjudicators. They put me there and if they want me there in the future they will have the opportunity of doing that down the road.”

He told Ocean FM presenter Niall Delaney he had been getting support from people who "know it was a hatchet job", with people coming into his shop in recent days and putting their arms around him, and others sending him supportive texts.

‘Definitely set up’

“I was definitely set up . I never got any money in my life from being involved in politics for any favour, and I would not condone it.”

He said he had been “in a dark place” since getting an email from RTÉ on November 13th last. His family was also devastated.

“ I apologise to everyone. I will try and pick up the pieces and get on with life. It has been an absolute nightmare,” he said.

Mr Queenan said he was now considering his legal options in relation to the programme.

Sligo County Council’s ethics registrar is conducting a review of 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.

Further consideration will be given to the issues on completion of the review, at which point a further statement will be issued.

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland