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Councillor Hugh McElvaney breached ethics law during undercover RTÉ investigation, SIPO finds

McElvaney was subject of an RTÉ Investigates programme Standard in Public Office, aired in 2015.

Image: RTÉ

MONAGHAN COUNTY COUNCILLOR Hugh McElvaney has been found to have breached ethics laws by deliberately seeking payment from a company he believed was going to fund a planning application for a wind farm in his constituency. 

The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) concluded in a report published today that McElvaney also failed to uphold the Code of Conduct for Councillors during an interaction with a fictitious company and dismissed an argument claiming McElvaney had been set-up to obtain evidence. 

McElvaney was the subject of an RTÉ Investigates programme Standard in Public Office, aired in 2015.

In it, an undercover researcher, using the name Nina Carlson posed as a representative of a foreign investment firm looking for their support for a fictitious wind farm development.

SIPO’s investigation arose following a complaint made to the Commission that the Councillor had contravened provisions of the 2001 Local Government and the Code of Conduct for Councillors. 

McElvaney subsequently made a High Court bid to have the SIPO inquiry stopped. 

“The Commission finds that Councillor McElvaney conflated his roles as Councillor and businessman and used his position as councillor in order to promote his private interests by agreeing to provide information and assistance to the fictitious investment company in respect of the planning process in return for a financial reward,” the Commission said in its report today. 

Capture Source: SIPO

The Commission also found that McElvaney – who was re-elected at last year’s Local Elections – had been the person looking for payment and that “it was clear that the set-up involved no more than presenting an unexceptional opportunity to engage in conduct the person would otherwise have engaged in.

“The Commission finds that it is of significance that, even in the course of the telephone conversation, it was Councillor McElvaney who initiated the discussion of the financial terms of any engagement he might undertake with the investment company”. 

“Later, in the course of the meeting…Councillor McElvaney confirmed that he would not only assist with the identification of sites and be a liaison with the local community but he would also operate on behalf of the company in the Council itself,” the report concluded. 

The Commission also said it was of the the opinion that “Councillor McElvaney behaved in a manner which was not based solely on the consideration of the public interest.

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“This conduct was liable to erode, rather than enhance, public trust and confidence and to bring the integrity of the office and of the local authority into disrepute. In these circumstances, Councillor McElvaney failed to observe the highest ethical standards in the performance of his role,” it said. 

During the RTÉ undercover interview, McElvaney was recorded speaking to a journalist posing as a businesswoman and asking, “are you going to pay me by the hour or by the job?”

Speaking after the documentary was aired, McElvaney said he was “taking the piss out of RTÉ” by playing along with the sting operation.

The Commission said today it was satisfied that RTÉ did not engage in “any gross misconduct which would render it an abuse of process for the Commission to rely on the evidence of the undercover operations”. 

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