Western Isles SNP councillor Annie Macdonald has declared that she will pay her own solicitor’s bill for preparing her case to the Eishken windfarm public inquiry.
Mrs Macdonald raised controversy when it emerged that she, and four other inquiry witnesses, are using developer Nick Oppenheim’s lawyer to help back the wind farm.
This week Dr Finlay Macleod of local campaign group MWT voiced serious concerns to the inquiry reporter Janet McNair over a “discernible link between the wind farm applicant and the independent witnesses.”
He questioned the independence of SNP councillor Philip Mclean who, like Mrs Macdonald and John Randall, Iain Maciver and Donald Mackay, was appearing on his own behalf.
Mr Macleod estimated their total bill from Sandra Leece of leading UK law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn could reach £ 20,000 and quizzed if Mr Oppenheim was paying their fees.
On Monday, Mrs Macdonald refused to reveal who was paying her legal fees.
However, when giving evidence on Wednesday afternoon, she stressed: “Ms Leece will be paid by me for her part in my precognition.”
Mrs Macdonald referred to Finlay Macleod “implying that I was getting financial assistance from whoever to pay for my legal expenditure for today’s legal hearing.”
She added: “Every single thing I have done for this windfarm has been paid out of my own pocket.
Examples were “all the workshops I created. I paid for every stamp to every letter.”
She said she received “no reimbursement from the Comhairle for anything.”
Finlay Macleod said: “In his evidence John Randall said Shepherd and Wedderburn were Mr Oppenheim’s solicitors.
“When asked who paid them he shrugged his shoulders.”
Dr Macleod put it to her: “If it emerged that the fees of the solicitor were paid for by the (wind farm) applicant would it suggest your position as an independent would be compromised?”
Mrs Macdonald retorted: “Would you like me to produce the receipt at some time to you ?”
Mrs Macdonald slated Catriona Campbell of MWT over her claims that it would be “unhealthy” for the Lochs community to be financially dependent on handouts from a small cohort of people controlling the Muaitheabhal Community Windfarm Trust.
Mrs Macdonald insisted: “The community would be given a “hand-up” rather than being given handouts.
“If the windfarm does go ahead then we would be helping ourselves and trying to improve our own lot.
“I feel that this is one opportunity we cannot really afford to miss.
“It’s a hand-up we would be getting not a handout.”
She told the inquiry: “It would assist the community in building pride for itself by controlling its own destiny.”
Mrs Macdonald pointed out: “As a democratically elected person in the area I tried my utmost to gauge what people in the Lochs area, as it was then, felt about the windfarm hence the reason I held workshops.
“I came out in favour after reading everything about the windfarm application
“Public attitudes, I felt, haven’t changed so dramatically.
She suggested that there was broad support for the windfarm locally as: “I wouldn’t have been re-elected – everyone knew I supported the windfarm.”
She acknowledged that the change in ward boundaries and in the voting system did not make for an easy comparison with the previous election.
21 May 2008
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