Monday 16 October 2017

FG probe clears TD of bringing party into disrepute

Olivia Mitchell TD was cleared by Fine Gael inquiry
Olivia Mitchell TD was cleared by Fine Gael inquiry
Cllr Therese Ridge: accepted 'inappropriate' donations

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

FINE Gael TD Olivia Mitchell was cleared last night by a party inquiry into the findings of the Mahon Tribunal, despite the internal investigation agreeing it was "inappropriate" for her to accept a donation.

But her friend, councillor Therese Ridge, lost the party whip and faces possible expulsion if she doesn't abide by the punishment.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny avoids a potential by-election headache as it was suggested within the party that Ms Mitchell would resign her seat if the investigation found against her.

The Fine Gael disciplinary committee did not solely examine the principle of a party member being found to have accepted an "inappropriate" payment; the inquiry differentiated between the acceptance of a donation and a close association with a developer in examining party figures against whom adverse findings were made by Mahon.

Ms Mitchell and Ms Ridge both appeared before the disciplinary committee last month and were accompanied by lawyers.

The Planning Tribunal found it was "inappropriate" for Ms Mitchell, then a councillor, to have received a donation in 1992 of IR£500 from disgraced former government press secretary Frank Dunlop.

But the Fine Gael disciplinary committee found while it was "inappropriate in light of what we now know" for Ms Mitchell to accept the donation "her actions have not brought the party into disrepute".

The Mahon report also found Ms Ridge received an "inappropriate" payment of IR£1,000 from Mr Dunlop, that she supported the Quarryvale project, and was "handsomely rewarded" for her efforts.

But in Ms Ridge's case, the investigation committee found it was "injudicious and unwise" for her to have accepted the donation.

"Furthermore, the committee found that councillor Ridge's relationship with Frank Dunlop severely compromised her role as a public representative.

"Failure to declare an interest and abstention on votes was also wholly inappropriate and damaging to the interests of Fine Gael," the party said.

Under party rules, Ms Ridge must resign within a week from all committees associated with her role as a public representative.

"Failure to do so will result in the cessation of her membership of Fine Gael on July 1 next," the party said.

Ms Ridge has 30 days to appeal.

Inappropriate

A third party member, councillor Anne Devitt, quit Fine Gael in the wake of Mahon after the report found her actions were "entirely inappropriate".

The report said she acted as a legal consultant to a property group with the promise and payment of IR£20,000, but she was also a Dublin councillor and on a health board.

Ms Mitchell, Ms Ridge and Ms Devitt were members of the 'Four by Two Club', which dined with Mr Dunlop and developer Owen O'Callaghan in Roly's Bistro and Le Coq Hardi in the run-up to the Quarryvale rezoning.

Last night, Ms Mitchell said she was "pleased but not surprised" the inquiry found she had no case to answer.

"The opinion of the tribunal that acceptance of such a donation was inappropriate is entirely unremarkable given that the opinion was formed with the benefit of hindsight and in the light of information about Mr Dunlop and his activities, which was unknown both to me and the general public at that time," she said.

Irish Independent

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