Friday 28 July 2017

Fianna Fáil councillor Joe Queenan resigns following RTE Investigates documentary

* 'I knew I was being set up...I lured her into my trap' - Cllr Hugh McElvaney at centre of planning bid controversy wanted to expose RTE 'dirty tricks campaign' against him

Joe Queenan
Joe Queenan
Former Fine Gael Councillor Hugh McElvaney pictured speaking to the Irish Independent's Philip Ryan.Picture Credit Frank Mc Grath

Shane Phelan and Philip Ryan

A Fianna Fail county councillor has resigned following the airing of an RTE Investigates documentary tonight in which he was filmed offering to act as an intermediary for a wind farm company in return for an investment in a business he was planning.

Mr Queenan featured on RTÉ Investigates tonight which probed political lobbying in Ireland.

In a statement tonight, Fianna Fáil said it has accepted the resignation of Cllr Joe Queenan.

A party spokesperson said: "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."

RTÉ reporters founded a fake wind farm company for the documentary and approached a number of local representatives. Mr Queenan was recorded on camera offering to act as an intermediary for a company in return for an investment in a business he was planning.

“Separately, in respect of any allegations that were made against current members of Fianna Fáil, the Party will immediately commence an internal inquiry under the auspices of the Ard Chomhairle to establish the full facts in each instance and will take action as appropriate.

“Fianna Fáil expects the highest standards from its public representatives. There is absolutely no tolerance within the party for any breaches of such standards.”

Meanwhile, Fine Gael described the revelations in the programme as "shocking" and it said they "go against the definition and spirit of public service".

"It is unacceptable for any public representative to use their position for financial gain. There can be no excuses."

"Fine Gael believes in upholding the highest standards of transparency in public office and expects the same of all of our public representatives," the statement added.

A county councillor at the centre of an ethical controversy after being taped seeking Stg£10,000 payment for a planning bid has said he knew he was being set up.

Cllr Hugh McElvaney requested the funds to assist a company with planning permission for the windfarm after being approached by a "UK businesswoman".

However, Mr McElvaney has claimed that he knew the woman was an undercover reporter from the moment the telephone conversation began.

"I knew I was being set up...I lured her into my trap," he told the Joe Finnegan show on Northern Sound radio this morning.

A recording of the Monaghan politician asking for "sterling on the table" is to be aired tonight as part of an 'RTÉ Investigates' documentary focusing on the ethical standards of politicians.

"It was dirty tricks on behalf of somebody."

He said he decided to play along with it because otherwise there "would be no show".

"And I wouldn't have the opportunity of showing RTE up, our State broadcaster, for what they are," he said on the radio show.

Cllr McElvaney was one of three councillors who agreed to help the undercover reporter with her efforts to secure planning for a fictitious company.

Donegal Independent John O'Donnell was recorded saying he would be paid for this work through another person.

Sligo Fianna Fáil representative Joe Queenan agreed to help, but did not ask for a payment. All three have denied any wrongdoing.

In a statement tonight, Fianna Fáil said it has accepted the resignation of Cllr Joe Queenan.

A party spokesperson said: "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."

“Separately, in respect of any allegations that were made against current members of Fianna Fáil, the Party will immediately commence an internal inquiry under the auspices of the Ard Chomhairle to establish the full facts in each instance and will take action as appropriate.

“Fianna Fáil expects the highest standards from its public representatives. There is absolutely no tolerance within the party for any breaches of such standards.”

In the RTÉ Investigates' documentary, Cllr McElvaney can be heard saying: "You need to sweeten the man up, you know what I mean ... You would need to put sterling on the table."

Asked how much he wanted, he was recorded replying: "Ten grand would be a start."

He added: "If the money is in the bag, the keener I will be."

At a subsequent meeting, videotaped using a hidden camera, he said he was "only fooling" about the £10,000, that he didn't know how much he would want and he would get paid only if the project was a success. "If it is successful for you, I want loads of money," he said.

Cllr McElvaney last night denied any wrongdoing, claiming he knew it was a "sting" but went along with it, as he wanted to expose what he described as an RTÉ "dirty tricks campaign" against him.

"I had to make it as juicy as possible or there would be no show and I had to make it quite sexy so I answered all her questions to make her interested," he told the Irish Independent.

 "It takes nerves of steel to do this. I have certainly incriminated myself but I had to do this to expose RTÉ. That's the type of man I am. Everyone knows I would never take a bribe."

 Mr McElvaney said he initially went along with it, as he wanted to gather information for his local anti-pylon organisation.

He said since he was contacted by RTÉ about the documentary he alerted his local garda station.

 He also claimed he was set up by "dark forces" within politics.

 Cllr McElvaney quit Fine Gael last month. However, he claims this was coincidental and that his departure was due to his opposition to pylons.

 Meanwhile, Letterkenny-based Cllr John O'Donnell was recorded on video saying he was willing to "work quietly" on behalf of the fictitious company.

 When asked if he wanted to be paid, he said he required "nothing to do a small section of work".

 But he said that at a later point the company could sit down with another individual.

 "I'll get paid through him," he said, adding that the arrangement was for "my protection".

 A statement issued on behalf of Cllr O'Donnell said his reference to a payment was made on the basis that he as a businessman might be participating in any project that materialised from work he would be completing as a businessman.

 Any payments for such work would be dealt with by a professional team he was putting together and strictly in accordance with the law and ethics disclosure procedures.

 In Sligo, Fianna Fáil councillor Joe Queenan was recorded saying he was willing to act "as a link man or a go-between" for the fictitious company's architects and the local authority.

 Cllr Queenan said he wanted confidentiality and was not looking for a payment.

 A statement issued by solicitors acting on behalf of Cllr Queenan said: "Our client was not corrupt and repeatedly said he did not want a fee."

Irish Independent

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