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Councillor loses court bid to block SIPO inquiry

A county councillor has lost his High Court bid aimed at preventing an ethics inquiry being conducted over comments he made while being secretly filmed by RTÉ Investigates.

The action was brought by Monaghan Councillor Hugh McElvaney, who is the subject of a Standards in Public Office (SIPO) Commission investigation into whether he breached ethics when he was one of the subjects of the programme, which was aired in 2015.

In it, an undercover researcher posed as a representative of a foreign investment firm looking for support for a fictitious wind farm development.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Garrett Simons said he was satisfied “to dismiss the application in its entirety.”

The decision clears the way for the SIPO inquiry, which had been on hold pending the outcome of the High Court case, to proceed.

Cllr McElvaney brought High Court judicial review proceedings last year claiming the inquiry into him should be stopped.

Mr McElvaney, who was a former FG councillor but is now independent, had argued that he was entrapped by the RTÉ reporter, who would not be available for cross-examination at the hearing of the investigation, and that the inquiry was inadequate.

In a lengthy and detailed ruling, the judge said that the absence of the undercover reporter did not prejudice the statutory investigation being conducted by SIPO.

Mr Justice Simons said what the reporter said was not at issue as it was accepted what she had said was fictitious.

What was at issue the judge said was the response of the councillor to what was said.

He said SIPO would have to consider, for example, “whether the councillor’s response amounted to a request for remuneration or reward for anything to be done by virtue of his office as an elected member. ”

The judge added that the councillor’s objection to RTÉ engaging in an impermissible exercise of entrapment was “premature.”

SIPO, he said, has made it clear that it has not yet made a determination in respect of the entrapment objection raised by Mr McElvaney.

The matter was adjourned to a date in October for final orders.