Thursday 19 September 2019

Judge clears way for ethics probe into McElvaney

Hugh McElvaney. Photo: Frank McGrath
Hugh McElvaney. Photo: Frank McGrath

Aodhan O Faolain and Ray Managh

A county councillor has lost his High Court bid to prevent an ethics inquiry being conducted, over comments he made while being secretly filmed by 'Prime Time'.

Monaghan county councillor Hugh McElvaney is the subject of a Standards in Public Office (Sipo) Commission investigation into whether he breached ethics when he was one of the subjects of an 'RTÉ Investigates' programme.

An undercover researcher using the name "Nina Carlson" posed as a representative of a  foreign investment firm looking for their support for a fictitious wind farm development.

Cllr McElvaney brought High Court judicial review proceedings last year, claiming that Sipo, which has already held a preliminary inquiry into the matter, should be stopped in its entirety.

In his judgment yesterday, Mr Justice Garrett Simons said that he was satisfied "to dismiss the application in its entirety".

The decision clears the way for the Sipo inquiry, which had been on hold pending the outcome of the High Court case.

The investigation arose following a complaint made to the commission that the councillor had contravened provisions of the 2001 Local Government Act and the Code of Conduct for Councillors.

In his action, the former Fine Gael and now Independent councillor Mr McElvaney had argued that he was entrapped by the RTÉ reporter, who would not be available for cross-examination at the hearing of the investigation, and that the inquiry was inadequate.

Sipo had opposed the application.

In a lengthy and detailed ruling, the judge said that the absence of the undercover reporter did not prejudice the statutory investigation being conducted by Sipo.

The judge said that what the reporter said to Mr McElvaney during the interview was not at issue, as it was accepted what she had said was fictitious.

What was at issue, the judge added, was the response of the councillor to what had been said.

Sipo, he said, "will have to consider, for example, whether the councillor's response amounted to a request for remuneration or reward for anything to be done by virtue of his office as an elected member".

The judge added that the councillor's objection to RTÉ engaging in an impermissible exercise of entrapment was "premature".

The commission, he said, has made it clear that it has not yet made a determination in respect of the entrapment objection raised by Mr McElvaney.

The matter was adjourned to a date in October for final orders.

Irish Independent

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