Wednesday 28 September 2016

Bar brawl throws spotlight back on TD who can't seem to escape the controversies

Published 29/08/2015 | 10:53

TD Sean Conlan with his parliamentary assistant and finacée Sarah Comiskey
TD Sean Conlan with his parliamentary assistant and finacée Sarah Comiskey

In Tommy Makem’s ode to the small Monaghan town of Ballybay he tells the story of a young woman whose father brewed poitín for the locals.

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“But when she took to the drink, well the devil wouldn’t fill her,” Makem sings.

Fine Gael TD Sean Conlan’s father didn’t brew moonshine, but he did own a local bar which was passed on to his son after his death.

Conlan’s Bar, which is currently leased out to a third party, is one of the first watering holes you hit when you drive into Ballybay.

Conlan’s constituency office and legal firm are both adjacent to the building.

Last Sunday, gardaí were called to the bar after a violent incident resulted in a man in his 20s receiving medical attention after he was stabbed with a broken glass.

The exact details of the fracas are still unclear, but gardaí are treating the matter seriously.

Conlan was in the bar at the time of the assault but has so far decided not to speak publicly about the incident.

His father, John Francis Conlan, was known as ‘the quiet man’ of Leinster House during his seven terms in office.

In a moving Dáil speech following his death in 2004, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the politician was “not one for sound bites or the high political drama”.

“He was a quiet gentleman who represented his people faithfully and well,” Mr Kenny added.

The Ballybay man served on Monaghan County Council for 44 years until he retired in 1999.

It would be another decade before his son Sean would be successfully elected to the council where his father spent half a lifetime serving the people of Monaghan.

The 2009 local elections were a huge success for Fine Gael, as the public turned their back on Fianna Fáil at the height of the financial crisis.

The pattern followed two years later at the general elections and Sean found himself among three Fine Gael TDs elected to the Dáil in Cavan Monaghan constituency.

Once inside Leinster House, Conlan was aligned with a group of young and ambitious TDs who became known as the ‘five-a-side club’. 

The group spurred each other on to speak up at parliamentary party meetings and push forward their political reform agenda.

Sean was not the most vocal of the group and seemed to be carrying the ‘quiet man’ tradition of his father.

However, almost three years into his first stint in the Dáil, Sean hit the headlines when the Irish Independent revealed he hired his fiancée Sarah Comiskey as his parliamentary assistant.

Little was made of the story and life was quiet again for the TD until the John McNulty Seanad cronyism scandal blew up in Enda Kenny’s face in October last year.

After appointing his own fiancée to a taxpayer funded position, Sean decided to publicly criticise the Taoiseach and his constituency colleague Arts Minister Heather Humphreys over the Irish Museum of Modern Art appointment.

Despite being successful running mates, Sean and Heather never had a close relationship and their candidacies split the Fine Gael membership in Monaghan.

So when the Irish Independent revealed how a UK antique dealer wrote to the Taoiseach about a €10,000 diamond and ruby ring she gave Conlan, his immediate reaction was to blame the Arts Minister and Mr Kenny for leaking the story.

He again appeared on RTÉ insisting a political plot had been masterminded to discredit him for speaking out about the Taoiseach.

On his local radio station he made bizarre claims about how Minister Humphreys orchestrated the entire affair.

However, Sean never explained why the antiques dealer believed he would pay for the ring, yet he took it to Ireland to have it valued and then decided he did not want it before returning it to the antique dealer.

Soon after, Sean was back in the spotlight when his former secretarial assistant, Cathy Shevlin, who worked in his constituency office in Ballybay, took an unfair dismissal case against her employer.

During a tense three-day hearing, Shevlin accused her former boss of intimidation and bullying, and said this forced her to take stress-related sick leave.

Conlan insisted he was left with no choice but to sack his assistant because she had undermined him in front of his political rivals. 

However, the tribunal found against him and ordered him to pay €25,000 to Shevlin.

An appeal of the decision lodged by Conlan will be before Monaghan Circuit Court next Wednesday and he will once again be the subject of media attention.

No matter what the outcome, Conlan has certainly rid himself of his ‘quiet man’ label.

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