Standards watchdog gets complaint over Creighton legal fees
Renua leader says she’s a target of ‘politically motivated lies’ in midst of election
Published 14/02/2016 | 02:30
The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) has received an anonymous complaint in relation to Renua leader Lucinda Creighton. A claim in relation to the same matter - Ms Creighton's alleged receipt of a 'benefit in kind' - had already been rejected by the commission last year.
The complaint, the detail of which Ms Creighton last night flatly denied, was submitted on Friday, February 5. The Sunday Independent understands that the board of SIPO will consider the matter at its next meeting, which is scheduled to take place next month.
The Renua leader said the claim that she had failed to declare a 'benefit in kind' during her time as a minister of state was "vexatious and frivolous" and had already been rejected by the commission when it was the subject of a complaint from the same anonymous individual last September.
Ms Creighton said it was a matter of grave concern to her that in the midst of a general election, SIPO, "a body set up to protect ethics in politics is being used for dirty tricks".
In their original complaint to SIPO, the individual in question claimed that the Renua leader had received what they believed to be a 'benefit in kind' through the alleged receipt of either a partial settlement, discount or forbearance on the payment of legal fees she had incurred with Simon McAleese Solicitors in the course of defending an action for defamation brought against her in 2012 by property developer Michael O'Flynn.
The case was settled after two days of hearings in the High Court with Ms Creighton issuing an apology to Mr O'Flynn for remarks she made at the MacGill Summer School in July 2010, in which she expressed her disquiet over the developer's participation in a Fine Gael golf fundraiser at the K Club.
Apologising for those comments, Ms Creighton described Mr O'Flynn as "an upstanding developer" and said he had "not done any wrong".
As part of the settlement, Ms Creighton also agreed to make a contribution towards the payment of Mr O'Flynn's legal fees.
The bill for her own legal representation - the subject of the complaint to SIPO - is understood to have been substantial.
Having already considered the claims being made against Ms Creighton last September, SIPO decided the complainant had not provided any evidence to sustain it, and that there were no grounds on which to pursue the matter further.
Contacted by the Sunday Independent for comment, Ms Creighton bluntly dismissed the complaint, describing it as a "tissue of politically motivated lies", which she noted had now been resubmitted to SIPO, having already been rejected and dismissed by the commission.
The Renua leader said there were "reasons" for SIPO's rejection of the claim that she had received a 'benefit in kind' which should have been declared.
She said: "Costs accruing from a personal legal action do not fall under political expenditure or political donations legislation."
While members of the Oireachtas are not obliged to declare items which fall outside the areas of political expenditure or political donations legislation, Ms Creighton made it clear that she had paid the legal fees she had incurred in the O'Flynn case in full.
"The case also fell on the simple grounds that all bills were paid in full and can be proven to have been paid in full. There was no discount. Any attempt to portray an alternative story is deceitful and duplicitous," she said.
"It is a matter of even graver concern that SIPO could be politicised by this or that someone or some party is attempting to politicise SIPO.
"A body set up to protect ethics in politics is being used for dirty tricks. The party or individual involved in such actions do not possess a conscience. Questions have to be asked as to whether this individual can be allowed retain the veneer of anonymity."