'Sometimes, I say things I don't really mean, in the heat of battle'
FORMER Defence Minister Willie O'Dea yesterday claimed he was a victim of the political storm he caused by wrongly accusing a rival candidate of being involved in the running of a brothel.
And he finally apologised publicly for the affair.
The controversy started when Mr O'Dea last year accused a local election candidate in Limerick, Sinn Fein's Maurice Quinlivan, of being involved in the running of a brothel during a taped interview with a reporter from the 'Limerick Chronicle'.
"In so far as Mr Maurice Quinlivan is concerned, it turned out to be incorrect," Mr O'Dea said in a bruising encounter with Sean O'Rourke on the 'News at One' on RTE Radio. "I apologise for that. The moment I discovered it was incorrect, I apologised that I said it."
Replying to Mr O'Rourke, he stressed: "I am not a perjurer. Neither I nor any members of my family ever committed perjury. I never did that. I'm a victim here as well. Everybody's a victim. I'm being accused of something I didn't do, which is perjury, so from that point of view I'm a victim."
He also ascribed his gaffe to the heat of election time.
"Look, I say things I don't really mean sometimes in the heat of battle. I said something wrong on this occasion.
"It wasn't something I concocted, it was something that was passed on to me casually, (in) informal conversation with a member of the Garda Siochana.
"He told me that charges were being preferred. I passed that on; it wasn't true. I assumed the journalist would have heard it. When he hadn't heard it I told him to check his sources.
"I paid a substantial sum of money by way of damages. I reiterate my apology today. If I could take it back now, I would take it back. It was a stupid, silly mistake to pass on untested knowledge like that."
Mr O'Dea said he " assumed the information was correct. Part of it was correct; part of it was incorrect. Unfortunately, I passed it all on without verifying it and that was a mistake.
Mr O'Dea also said Sinn Fein activists were accusing him of effectively defrauding the taxman by using departmental-headed paper in letters to constituents.
He originally said in a court affidavit that he did not make the libellous brothel remarks but later told Mr Quinlivan's lawyers that the affidavit was incorrect. He claimed he forgot what he said on tape, but knew the tape existed.
He would not have sworn the affidavit if he had recollected the conversation correctly.
"Technically, maybe the affidavit wasn't corrected in the original court but it was corrected by reference to the fact that we told, unequivocally stated, to the solicitor for the other side that it was incorrect."
Referring to the context in which he made the remarks, the minister said: "It was late at night, I done a lot or interviews, I genuinely didn't recall saying what I said.
"I suppose my political style couldn't be described as gentle by any stretch of the imagination,'' Mr O'Dea admitted.