A political ethics inquiry has been held to consider the behaviour of a long-serving councillor who asked for “loads of money” during a meeting with an undercover reporter posing as a wind farm investor.
The Standards in Public Office Commission [SIPOC] inquiry into the conduct of Monaghan councillor Hugh McElvaney recommenced this morning after his High Court challenge to the process failed earlier this year.
The SIPOC process was triggered after a complaint by Monaghan County Council following its initial investigation into Mr McElvaney’s demands for money at the meeting with the fake wind farm company.
The meeting had been secretly filmed as part of a RTÉ Investigates programme broadcast in December 2015.
Today’s inquiry heard from letters written by Mr McElvaney’s solicitor to SIPOC in which it was claimed the former Fine Gael councillor had requested money from the fictitious investors because he believed he would be employed as a consultant.
Mr McElvaney attended today’s hearing and watched the full, unedited footage from his meeting with the undercover reporter in 2015.
Afterwards the seven-member SIPOC, chaired by retired judge Daniel O’Keeffe, was presented with four allegations of breaches of the ethics act by Mr McElvaney.
Counsel for inquiry team, James Doherty, said it was alleged Mr McElvaney had failed to abide by the Councillor’s code of conduct, had sought payment for doing his job as a councillor and had failed to properly disclose his interests in an ethics declaration he signed in February 2015.
Counsel for Mr McElvaney, Breffni Gordon BL, objected to the manner in which SIPOC was conducting the process.
Mr Gordon said his client should be given the opportunity to cross-examine the undercover reporter but she had not been made available.
“We cannot call this witness even though we require her… [Mr McElvaney] feels he is here with one hand tied behind his back.,” he said.
Mr Gordon said he was not prepared to present an ad hoc argument if he was unable to properly challenge the evidence.
He said Mr McElvaney was on course to fulfil a record 50 years as an elected representative and deserved better.
“My client has given and devoted a significant part of his life to public service.
“I would ask that you would understand this involves a particularly unpleasant and particularly embarrassing situation for him,” he said.
Mr Gordon said while he would not call any witnesses, he was unhappy with the SIPOC process.
“One – my client is unhappy with the procedure, and two – he maintains he has done nothing wrong,” Mr Gordon said.
Mr Doherty said the High Court had already considered legitimacy of the process and ruled that it could proceed.
He said RTÉ had not engaged in entrapment because the situation it set up was not exceptional.
He asked SIPOC that if it finds Mr McElvaney had breached the ethics provisions of the Local Government Act, that it also consider the severity of the breaches.
SIPOC will consider the evidence presented at the hearing and prepare a report.
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