TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has described himself as “concerned” about findings made against a Fine Gael councillor by the State’s ethic watchdog.
Mayo councillor Cyril Burke faces the prospect of possibly being dropped from the party’s local election ticket after he was found to have breached Standard in Public Office Commission (Sipo) rules.
The case arose from his involvement in an alleged plan to secure zoning for land owned by another local elected representative.
Sipo found Mr Burke acted "recklessly" and in contravention of the code of conduct for politicians in his dealings with Independent councillor Frank Durcan who also had findings made against him.
In his first comments on the case, Mr Varadkar said he was “obviously” aware of the situation and the Sipo findings have been referred to Fine Gael’s disciplinary committee.
“The party’s disciplinary committee will give him a fair hearing and decide whether or not he can continue to be a Fine Gael member and continue to have the Fine Gael whip,” the Taoiseach said.
Asked whether this meant, Cllr Burke may not be allowed stand for the party in May’s election, he replied: “Decisions on who runs for the party are made at conventions. In order to run at convention you have to be a party member. So the disciplinary committee will hear the case and decide what sanctions are appropriate.”
Last week, Fine Gael refused to say if Mr Burke would be put forward as a candidate in the forthcoming local elections.
The Sipo investigation centred on recordings and texts messages between the two councillors in which they discussed rezoning land owned by Mr Durcan.
In return for the zoned development land, the Independent councillor was asked by Mr Burke to withdraw Freedom of Information requests he submitted seeking information on a senior Mayo County Council official.
Sipo found Mr Burke's interactions with Mr Durcan did not display “consideration of the public interest or the common good”.
The watchdog said the recordings of the conversations between the two councillors showed a “certain lack of honesty” on Mr Burke’s part. He was also found to have brought the integrity of Mayo County Council into disrepute. Sipo made similarly negative findings against Mr Durcan and found he acted recklessly and in breach of ethics guidelines.
Mr Durcan lodged the complaint with Sipo which led to the investigation and he claimed he recorded his conversations with Mr Burke to expose planning corruption in Mayo. However, Sipo did not accept his evidence and found he stood to benefit from his arrangement with Mr Burke.
Mayo County Council chief executive Peter Hynes was also investigated by Sipo in relation to the same issue but no findings were made against him by the watchdog.