Friday 21 October 2016

FF councillor leaves party following RTÉ investigation

Donegal representative threatens to sue RTE

Published 08/12/2015 | 02:30

Councillor John O’Donnell from Donegal filmed in a meeting with an undercover reporter for the RTÉ Investigates – Standards in Public Office programme.
Councillor John O’Donnell from Donegal filmed in a meeting with an undercover reporter for the RTÉ Investigates – Standards in Public Office programme.
Joe Queenan of Fianna Fáil

A Councillor who featured in last night's 'RTÉ Investigates' documentary about standards in public office has resigned from Fianna Fáil.

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Veteran Sligo County Councillor Joe Queenan, who had welcomed Prince Charles to the county last May, stepped down from the party after he agreed to help an undercover reporter with planning.

He did not ask for a payment and has denied any wrongdoing.

However, just moments after the documentary was aired last night, Fianna Fáil issued a statement saying it has accepted the resignation of Cllr Queenan from the party.

"Some of the behaviour displayed in tonight's programme was shocking and completely unacceptable. The instances where there appear to be clear breaches of the law need to be fully investigated by the gardaí and prosecutions brought where appropriate," said the statement.

It added that, in respect of any current party members against whom allegations were made, the party will immediately begin an internal inquiry.

Another councillor who appeared in the documentary, John O'Donnell, a member of Donegal County Council, yesterday resisted calls for his resignation and is instead threatening to sue RTÉ for what he terms a breach of his constitutional and EU rights to privacy.

He was one of two councillors secretly filmed telling an undercover reporter he would like to be paid for assisting a windfarm investment company with planning issues.

Mr O'Donnell, an Independent councillor, told the reporter, who posed as a representative of a fictitious company, that he wanted to be paid through another individual and that such an arrangement would be for his "protection".

A second independent councillor, Hugh McElvaney of Monaghan County Council, also denied any wrongdoing despite being recorded on tape seeking £10,000 (€13,883) in return for his assistance.

He claimed he was the victim of a "dirty tricks campaign" and that he played along as he wanted "the opportunity of showing RTÉ up, our State broadcaster, for what they are".

Both men came out fighting as the footage was aired by RTÉ last night.

Following the broadcast, pressure is mounting for their respective local authorities to mount ethics investigations.

This can be done only if the ethics registrars in both councils refer the matter to their respective chairperson and chief executive.

There was no indication last night that this had been done yet in either county. Under this mechanism, it is open to a local authority to discipline a member. It is also open to a council to refer matters to the Director of Public Prosecutions following an ethics investigation.

RTÉ strongly defended the tactics used as part of the investigation. In a statement it said it was "entirely satisfied" its team "acted appropriately and in the public interest".

Earlier, Cllr O'Donnell claimed he believed he had been primarily contacted by the undercover reporter in his capacity as a businessman and, secondly, in his capacity as a public representative.

He also said that any eventual participation by him in a business opportunity "would always be completed strictly in accordance with the guidelines and any obligations that pertain to me as a public representative".

He said the sting operation was an effort to "unsuccessfully entrap me into improper behaviour by dangling in front of me the prospect of a massive, but regrettably wholly fictitious, investment in the local economy".

Donegal Independent councillor Micheal Choilm Mac Giolla Easbuig, said he believed Cllr O'Donnell should resign.

Irish Independent

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