Monday 5 December 2016

Pressure on Creighton over ethics allegations

Philip Ryan and John Brennan

Published 24/02/2016 | 02:30

Fine Gael candidate Kate O’Connell (pictured) has called on Renua leader Lucinda Creighton to publish all evidence in relation to the legal fees controversy in the interests of transparency and accountability. Photo: Arthur Carron
Fine Gael candidate Kate O’Connell (pictured) has called on Renua leader Lucinda Creighton to publish all evidence in relation to the legal fees controversy in the interests of transparency and accountability. Photo: Arthur Carron
Fine Gael candidate Kate O’Connell has called on Renua leader Lucinda Creighton (pictured) to publish all evidence in relation to the legal fees controversy in the interests of transparency and accountability. Photo: Mark Condren

Renua leader Lucinda Creighton is facing calls from her constituency rival, Fine Gael candidate Kate O'Connell, to disclose the cost of the legal fees at the centre of an ethics watchdog complaint.

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Ms Creighton is refusing to release any details of the costs. That is despite publicly stating she would produce "evidence" that would prove she did not receive reduced legal fees which should have been declared.

Yesterday, Ms O'Connell insisted the Renua leader should publish all documentation relating to the legal fees currently the subject of a complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).

"All supporting evidence should be supplied in the interest of transparency and accountability," Ms O'Connell told the Irish Independent.

"If any other party leader was facing such an allegation, they would be castigated by Deputy Creighton. If indeed Renua want to "govern in the sunshine", this is a perfect opportunity for them, so I cannot understand why they are failing to take it," she added.

But yesterday Ms Creighton again refused to give any details of her legal costs at the centre of the ethics dispute.

"My solicitor has provided clear evidence that I was invoiced and I paid my legal costs in full," she said.

"I don't know how many ways I can do it, I have provided evidence and, you know what, the Standards in Public Office is the watchdog in this State to deal with any wrongdoing by politicians and they dismissed this allegation against me six months ago," she added.

Ms Creighton is facing a major fight for the final seat in the Dublin Bay South constituency.

A recent Irish Independent polls suggested she might lose her seat to Ms O'Connell, who was selected by Fine Gael to replace her.

The Irish Independent has also learned Sipo has refused a request by Ms Creighton to have the allegations made against her investigated before Friday's General Election.

Instead, the watchdog will rule on the claim Ms Creighton received a benefit she should have declared on March 13.

It is also understood Sipo has written to the Renua leader offering to accept any information she might have which would disprove the allegation.

She has just over two weeks to send evidence to the ethics watchdog if she wishes to have it considered as part of the Sipo investigation.

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, which will now be considered by Sipo in March.

The 'Sunday Independent' first revealed two weeks ago that an individual wrote to Sipo alleging Ms Creighton 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.

The legal firm represented her during a High Court defamation case taken against her by property developer Michael O'Flynn in 2012.

Mr O'Flynn lodged the legal action following remarks Ms Creighton made about participation in a Fine Gael golf fundraiser at the K Club.

She settled the case after two days of hearings 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.

After publicly saying she would provide evidence, Ms Creighton instead produced a letter from her solicitor which said she paid the amount the firm billed.

The letter, which was dated February 19, 2016, and was written on Ms Creighton's request, did not detail the costs of the fees or say if she was given a reduced rate, as is alleged in the Sipo complaint.

Irish Independent

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