Saturday 24 March 2018

'Gutted' former Fianna Fail councillor threatens to sue RTE over corruption sting Prime Time show

Councillor Joe Queenan
Councillor Joe Queenan

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

A councillor at the centre of a corruption storm has denied acting improperly when he was filmed offering to help a company with planning issues.

Sligo county councillor Joe Queenan, who resigned from Fianna Fail in the aftermath of this week’s RTE Investigates Programme, said he was “sorry” for some of the things he said and “absolutely devastated and gutted” by the fall out from its broadcast.

However, he also said he believed he was entrapped and is now considering suing the State broadcaster.

The councillor was secretly filmed telling an undercover report posing as a representative of a windfarm investment company that he could act as “a go between” for her firm to help it navigating the planning process.

He did not seek any payment for this, but was recorded saying he was looking for investors at a future stage for a business he was planning.

In a statement issued by his solicitors, Cllr Queenan claimed: “The edited footage does not represent the true nature of the meeting.”

The statement also reiterated that the Enniscrone area councillor did not seek any payment from the undercover reporter.

It goes on to deny that he proposed an investment be made by the fictitious wind farm company in his planned business venture in return for his help with planning issues.

The politician claims he wanted to meet the undercover reporter in the foyer of the Sligo Park Hotel, in full view of other hotel patrons.

However, he said that the venue was changed to a room in the Great Southern Hotel at the last minute.

Cllr Queenan claims that “on at least 13 occasions” during the course of the meeting he told the reporter that the planning process was an impartial one and there were no guarantees her company would get planning.

He said she asked if he could “do something with the officials” following the lodgement of a planning application, and he had responded that he couldn’t.

However, the councillor did apologise “whole-heartedly” that his statutory ethics declaration for 2015 did not include a number of his business interests.

In a subsequent interview with Ocean FM, he said his offer to assist with the pre-planning process was completely normal.

“I was doing absolutely nothing wrong. It is being done every day of the week,” he said.

“If some constituents come to me with a proposed development, let it be a house or a gate on a road, you bring out the engineer or you bring out the planner and you ask them what’s their view on this.

“It short circuits the whole process and gives an opportunity to the person, rather than going away spending money with architects. So they know the lie of the land before they start the process.”

However, he added: “If I could turn the clock back there's things I said at that meeting I never would have said. I went there for a casual conversation.”

The ethics registrar of Sligo County Council is currently examining issues raised by the programme.

If the registrar refers the matter on to the chairperson and chief executive of the council, Cllr Queenan could be subject to an investigation.

Fianna Fail has also launched an internal inquiry.

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