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Green minister 'was not aware' she had put former drug dealer on State body

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Night-life campaigner: DJ Sunil Sharpe is described as ‘one of Europe’s most renowned and well-loved techno DJs’

Night-life campaigner: DJ Sunil Sharpe is described as ‘one of Europe’s most renowned and well-loved techno DJs’

Night-life campaigner: DJ Sunil Sharpe is described as ‘one of Europe’s most renowned and well-loved techno DJs’

Green Party minister Catherine Martin says she was not aware she had appointed a convicted former drug dealer to advise her on night-time entertainment.

The Culture Minister is standing by her appointment of DJ Sunil Sharpe, who was convicted in the 1990s.

The appointment yet again raises questions about the judgment of the Government and the failure to adequately vet appointees.

Former agriculture minister Barry Cowen was appointed to the Cabinet without Taoiseach Micheál Martin knowing he was banned for drink-driving.

The Greens' deputy leader set up a "night-time economy task force" to develop night-time culture and economy.

She singled out DJ Sunil Sharpe, who heads a campaign group on licensing laws for nightclubs, as her appointee.

"I am particularly pleased that Sunil Sharpe of Give us the Night has agreed to participate in the task force," she said announcing the group.

Mr Sharpe is a former drug dealer who was jailed for five years, but subsequently freed with a seven-year suspended sentence. His conviction from 1997 relates to pleading guilty to having ecstasy, cannabis resin, amphetamines and LSD for sale on dates in June, August and October 1996.

The DJ had been caught selling drugs at a Point Depot "rave". He also had drugs concealed in two flats and had large sums of cash he admitted were the proceeds of selling illegal drugs.

Ms Martin said she was "not aware" Mr Sharpe had a drugs conviction when she put him on the task force.

"In recent years Mr Sunil Sharpe has led the Give Us the Night campaign.

"I was not aware that he had a drugs conviction as a teenager when I nominated him to the night-time economy task force. It is my understanding that Mr Sharpe was punished by the courts at the time.

"Whilst unreservedly condemning what he did as a 17-year-old 24 years ago, I feel it is important that people, especially minors (under-18), know that their lives do not have to be defined forever by a mistake, albeit a very serious one, made as a 17-year-old," the minister said in a statement.

Mr Sharpe remains a member of the task force.

In a statement on Twitter this afternoon, Mr Sharpe said that he was what many would refer to as a "troubled youth" and his adult life has been spent drug free.

"I made a lot of wrong decisions but ultimately I learnt from them. My life immediately changed, I stayed drug free, and I spent an extended time within the probation service during my rehabilitation," he said.

"Music, DJing, Techno, all those things combined, gave me purpose in life during what was a very difficult time for myself, my family and especially my mother. I don't look back on those days with fondness, however I am grateful to have learnt my lessons so early in life.

"I never forget the mistakes I made, but my character is not defined by them. It is, I hope, defined by the changes I made to my life since then."

The minister announced the appointment of the task force on Thursday. When asked about Mr Sharpe's criminal past by the Irish Independent that evening, the department failed to respond. The issue is understood to have been passed to Green Party leader Eamon Ryan's officials in Government Buildings yesterday.

Officials in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were also made aware of the issue.

The Department of Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht eventually responded yesterday evening.

When contacted by this newspaper yesterday, Mr Sharpe repeatedly declined to comment on his convictions.

"I have given you my answer there. You are the one digging there looking for a bad story," he said. "I think it's a shame you are trying to bring a smear against the campaign. Is this what you do for a living?"

Mr Sharpe said reports from the time about his conviction are "not all factually correct".

"I am happy to go through this with you as quickly and as soon as I possibly can," he said.

Mr Sharpe is described as "one of Europe's most renowned and well-loved techno DJs". He said he is now a DJ and a musician.

"I am known for being a DJ and for other things," he said.

When asked about his appointment, Mr Sharpe said: "Maybe you need to speak to the department about that."

Mr Sharpe set up 'Give us the Night' to ensure debate about the licensing laws in Ireland "with a view to influencing legislative changes that lead to a more vibrant and profitable night-time industry".

The group has lobbied for a night mayor, to liaise between venues and the authorities.

Irish Independent


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