Wednesday 26 October 2016

John Perry denies fears were discussed within FG about his electoral strength

Tim Healy

Published 16/12/2015 | 17:45

John Perry
John Perry

DEPUTY John Perry has told the High Court he never had any discussion with Fine Gael party strategists in which fears were expressed about his electoral strength following recent controversies about him.

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He also disputed claims that a sister of one of the winning candidates for the Sligo-Leitrim constitutency had only been putting ballot papers into a box at the request of two elderly members who had asked her to do so.

He also claimed FG general secretary Tom Curran had bullied and traumatised his 15-year-old son Jude by wrongly accusing the boy of canvassing in the voting area at the Drumshambo convention on October 16 last.

He was under cross-examination on the second day of his action against the trustees of FG seeking that the result of the October 16 convention, at which he failed to be selected, be set aside because it was fundamentally flawed, unlawful and involved serious irregularities.

It was put to him by Seamus Woulfe SC, for FG, that an expert for the party would give evidence that as part of the party's electoral strategy, his (Perry's) electoral strength may have been affected by recent controversies.  These included his claims for mileage expenses and the hiring of his wife as a parliamentary assistant.

He denied there was any controversy and said he employed his wife for ten weeks after he had resigned as a junior minister and she had also worked voluntarily for him for six months.   He said there are people in the current government employing their spouses as secretaries.

"I would not call that controversy, it may be in your mind but not in mine", he told Mr Woulfe.

Following objections from Mr Perry's own counsel, there was no further questioning on the matter when Mr Perry agreed to say there had been some controversy.

Earlier, he said he met with with the general secretary Tom Curran and Brian Hayes TD last January to discuss the issue of strategy in the constituency, as there was for every other constituency in the country.

He was asked was he retiring and said "absolutely not" and he offered the view there should be three candidates in Sligo-Leitrim, the two sitting Sligo-based TDs (him and Tony McLouglin) and a third candidate from Leitrim.   He denied he suggested there should only be two candidates as it was "not my style of politics" to effectively agree to a sitting colleague being deselected.

He denied a claim by Mr Curran that he threatened to run as an independent if he did not get a nomination.

Mr Woulfe said this convention attracted a large turnout as it could be described "in sporting parlance as the political group of death" with four strong candidates and only two nominations available.

He agreed he received correspondence in advance including a request there be no canvassing in advance.

He did not agree that the convention mainly operated on the basis of assistance of outside volunteers as FG was a party that gets €5m a year in public funding to operate.

He agreed he was permitted to have a representative to oversee  the voting tables but he had not nominated one on the night.  Anyway, he said, there was such a crowd there nobody would be able to see what was going on in relation to alleged personation and permitting people to vote who were not entitled to vote.

There were seven disputed votes at issue and Mr Perry lost by ten, the court has heard.

He disagreed his description of what was going on as panic and disorderly was a gross exaggeration.

The court was told the claim that Ita Reynolds, a sister of one of the candidates, was seen by someone putting votes into the ballot box had been dealt with on the night by Mr Curran.  Mr Curran had approached Ms Reynolds who told him she was doing it at the request of two elderly members.

Mr Perry said while the membership of FG is largely people in their 60s, 70s and 80s, it was "quite extraordinary" that the people referred to by Ms Reynolds "would not walk from here to the door to cast their votes".   He had not seen this happening it had been reported to him.

He also said he was "appalled my son was dealt with in such a violent way by the general secretary" who had accused the young boy of canvassing.  It upset his wife and his son was quite traumatised for a number of days afterwards.

The case continues.

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