Sunday 4 December 2016

Lucinda Creighton declines to reveal legal costs at centre of Sipo claim

Philip Ryan and Ronald Quinlan

Published 21/02/2016 | 02:30

COMPLAINTS: Renua’s Lucinda Creighton would not say who was behind the alleged “dirty
tricks” campaign to discredit her. Photo: Frank McGrath
COMPLAINTS: Renua’s Lucinda Creighton would not say who was behind the alleged “dirty tricks” campaign to discredit her. Photo: Frank McGrath

Renua leader Lucinda Creighton has declined to reveal details of the legal bill at the centre of an ethics watchdog complaint.

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After the Sunday Independent last week revealed Ms Creighton was subject of a complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), she publicly stated that she was willing to produce "evidence" to prove she did not receive discounted legal fees, which should have been publicly declared.

This newspaper made several attempts last week to take Ms Creighton up on her offer and asked the Renua leader to produce detailed invoices or receipts which would show she did not receive a benefit in kind on her legal costs.

On Friday evening, she produced a letter from legal firm Simon McAleese Solicitors which acted for her during a High Court defamation case taken against her by property developer Michael O'Flynn in 2012.

The letter, addressed to Ms Creighton dated February 19, 2016, signed by Tony Williams of Simon McAleese Solicitors, stated: "I am writing this letter to you, at your request, to confirm the position in relation to your legal fees arising out of this case.

"The position is that, following the conclusion of the case, I sent you an invoice in respect of those fees which was discharged by you in full," it added.

Ms Creighton, who described the complaint as a "dirty tricks" campaign did not provide any other documentation or details concerning the costs of her legal fees.

In response to further queries, which stated that the letter could not be considered "evidence" of payment, another solicitor representing Ms Creighton said: "My client has since provided you with what on any view should be regarded as sufficient evidence of discharge of the costs in relation to the legal proceedings."

"So far as my client is concerned, she has paid the legal costs billed to her, and any related duty of disclosure does not arise," the solicitor added.

Last week, the Sunday Independent revealed an individual wrote to Sipo alleging the Renua leader received a benefit in kind through the alleged receipt of a partial settlement, discount or forbearance on the payment of legal fees she incurred from her barristers and Simon McAleese Solicitors.

A complaint lodged in September was dismissed by the watchdog due to a lack of evidence provided by the complainant.

A second complaint was lodged on February 5, two days before the election was called, and will be considered by Sipo when it meets next in March.

Ms Creighton claimed she was told be a "Fine Gael activist" that the party was planning to "smear" her using the ethics watchdog.

"It's a very cheap shot, a very cheap and rather pathetic attempt to smear me, to abuse the Standards in Public Office Commission," she said.

"I think it's an absolute disgrace that political opponents of mine are trying to use and abuse the Sipo process to smear me and doing so in the full knowledge that the standards in public office commission doesn't meet until March," she added.

Ms Creighton would not say who she believed was behind the alleged campaign to discredit her.

"There's a lot of very powerful people in this State. They don't like it, they don't like us, they don't want us to be elected and you know what, we're going to fight back," she said.

She said she has been in politics long enough to be "beyond being paranoid" adding she is "well aware what goes on in other political parties".

Mr O'Flynn lodged the defamation case against the Dublin Bay South TD following remarks Ms Creighton made about Mr O'Flynn's participation in a Fine Gael golf fundraiser at the K Club.

Ms Creighton settled the case after two days and agreed to pay part of the developer's legal costs. Typical costs for a two-day High Court defamation case are between €75,000 and €100,000.

An Irish Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll showed Ms Creighton is currently in real danger of losing her seat in Dublin Bay South.

She is facing a dogfight with Fine Gael's Kate O'Connell who was selected by the party to replace Ms Creighton.

To hear more about this story and other political developments, check out our two new political podcasts on Independent.ie. This weekend we have launched The Frontbench where three of the country's most experienced politicians scrutinise the election campaign, the polices and the personalities.

And every Tuesday and Friday, The Floating Voter, hosted by INM group political editor Kevin Doyle, will cut through the campaign soundbites and burst some of the bubbles that surround Irish politics in a irreverent but relevant way.

Political correspondents Niall O'Connor and Philip Ryan - and occasional contributors such as Nicola Anderson - go behind the headlines and share campaign stories as election fever heats up.

It's time to ignite the conversation.

Sunday Independent

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