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Friday 24 January 2020

Labour councillor made secret payment to Fine Gael politician after becoming mayor of Wexford town

Cllr George Lawlor
Cllr George Lawlor
Cllr Frank Staples
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

After becoming mayor of Wexford town Labour councillor George Lawlor - who is a close ally of Brendan Howlin - made a secret €400 payment to a Fine Gael councillor.

Councillor George Lawlor - parliamentary assistant to Labour Party leader Mr Howlin - said he paid Fine Gael councillor Frank Staples €400 to cover Mr Staple's expenses as deputy mayor in 2014. He admitted the payment sounded “dodgy” and said that it was a mistake not to disclose it.

The payment was made after a cross-party deal was struck between six of the 10 councillors in Wexford district to ensure all but one of them would serve as mayor of the town for one year each. Lawlor explained that the arrangement would see himself and four other councillors serve as mayor between 2014 and 2019, with Staples losing out but serving as deputy mayor for three years.

As the €500 allowance for deputy mayor had just been abolished, the three councillors agreed to each pay €400 to Staples as “a token gesture if he was driving somewhere or needed a shirt and tie”, Mr Lawlor said.

“It does look as if there is something underhand going on, but I can assure you that is not the case. I think if you are going to be involved in corruption you wouldn’t want to involve six people in it,” the long-serving councillor said.

“I absolutely understand the mistake we made was we didn’t declare this at the time, but the payment wasn’t secured for the vote. Frank [Staples] was already in the pact. I’d agree it doesn’t look good and in hindsight we should have declared what we were doing.”

Mr Staples said the payment was wrong and said the councillors were “holding our hands up”. He said he returned the money after he was able to become mayor for a term following the death of one of the councillors involved in the pact, Fianna Fáil’s Fergie Kehoe.

“It was €400 and I gave it back to George when I became mayor. I was only getting it because I wasn’t going to be mayor,” Mr Staples said. “It is what it is, we’re holding our hands up, people have to make up their own minds about it. There is nothing underhand about it.”

Asked about the appropriateness of the secret payment, a Labour spokesman said: “Cllr George Lawlor and others decided to make a token gesture to the Deputy Mayor to cover expenses associated with the role, as a previous Deputy Mayor’s Allowance of €500 had been abolished.”

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