Donegal County Councillor John O’Donnell wants to join a High Court challenge over an ethics inquiry arising from an RTÉ investigation programme.
The Irish Examiner reports the Kilmacrennan councillor wants to be joined as a notice party to judicial review proceedings by Monaghan Cllr Hugh McElvaney.
The review concerns an investigation by the Standards in Public Office Commission into whether Cllr McElvaney breached the ethical framework under the Local Government Act 2001.
The two Councillors, along with a third Councillor, Joe Queenan of Sligo County Council, were all made the subject of separate investigations by the commission after their respective councils made complaints about their behaviour arising from an RTÉ Investigates programme broadcast in December 2015.
The programme concerned a proposed wind farm development, purportedly by a foreign investment company, represented by a person who gave the name Nina Carlson but was, in fact, an undercover researcher.
The programme broadcast footage of separate meetings between the researcher and the three and also featured recorded phone conversations.
The commission’s inquiries concerning all three Cllrs went to hearing last September but were put on hold pending Cllr McElvaney’s judicial review, yet to be heard.
Mr McElvaney, a Fine Gael Cllr in late 2015 and now an Independent, has claimed he was “entrapped” by the researcher.
He objected to the commission hearing proceeding for reasons including RTÉ claimed privilege and was not advancing Ms Carlson as a witness whom he could cross-examine.
He went to the High Court after the commission ruled the hearing could proceed before it on the basis of unedited footage and recordings provided by RTÉ and other evidence.
Today, Mark O’Connell BL, for Cllr O’Donnell, said his client wished to be joined as a notice party to the McElvaney judicial review because he would be affected by the outcome and has a “vital interest” in it.
He said Cllr McElvaney wants to stop the investigation proceeding on grounds including he had no opportunity to cross-examine the undercover reporter and Cllr O’Donnell had raised a similar preliminary objection before the commission hearing concerning him proceeded last September.
While his client took a “realistic and constructive” approach during that hearing, there was “no guilty plea as such” and Cllr O’Donnell had at all times objected to the investigation taking place.
Mr Justice Michael McGrath was told solicitors for Cllr McElvaney were aware of Cllr O’Donnell’s application to be joined as a notice party and appeared to be neither consenting nor objecting to it.
The Commission, represented by James Doherty SC, opposed Cllr O’Donnell’s application.
He said no objection had been raised on behalf of any of the three concerning the accuracy of the RTE recordings.
The commission’s investigations into Cllrs Queenan and O’Donnell are at an advanced stage, evidence has concluded and only submissions and a decision are awaited, he said.
This contrasted with the hearing related to Cllr McElvaney where no evidence had been heard due to his judicial review. Cllr McElvaney’s case is “much broader” than the points made on behalf of Cllr O’Donnell before the commission, and included claims of apparent bias and concerning fundamental rights, counsel said.
Mr O’Donnell had not brought his own judicial review, is out of time to do so and cannot “piggyback” on Cllr McElvaney’s, he argued. If Cllr McElvaney gets an order of prohibition, that will only affect his hearing, he added.
Mr Justice Michael McGrath said he hoped to rule within a week or so.Tags: