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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
dirty dealings

"What's in it for me?" - Explosive RTÉ documentary shows politicians seeking cash

The programme will be broadcast tonight.

RTÉ TV Promotions / YouTube

IF IT’S NOT successful for you, then I’m out of the equation. But if it is successful for you, I want loads of money” – Former Fine Gael councillor Hugh McElvaney.

A shocking RTÉ documentary set to be screened tonight will allege a host of wrongdoing among politicians flouting rules about the non-disclosure of business interests.

The programme also features undercover footage of a journalist posing as a wind farm investor seeking help from three politicians. It shows the politicians agreeing to help in return for money, or in one case, a possible loan in the future.

The programme is by the RTÉ Investigations Unit which says it examined the declared interests of every single politician in the country, and looked for interests that were not made public.


The undercover segments of the programme feature the creation of a fake investment company called Vinst Opportunities that purported to seek help in investing in the wind energy sector.

A reporter named ‘Nina’ speaks with a foreign accent and met with three councillors seeking support in gaining sites for wind energy production in Ireland.

The contact specified that their meeting would be kept private and that the councillors would not disclose that they had met on planning matters.

RTÉ said they cold-called a ‘select few’ councillors and last month met secretly with a handful of members.

The three featured in the programme are Joe Queenan (Fianna Fáil) of Sligo County Council, John O’Donnell (independent) of Donegal County Council and Hugh McElvaney (Fine Gael) of Monaghan County Council.

The secret filming shows ‘Nina’ speaking to each of the men in an apparent attempt to reduce the company’s risk of not securing planning permission.

All three men agreed to help.

Hugh McElvaney

Councillor Hugh McElvaney - RTE Investigates - Standards in Public Office RTÉ.ie RTÉ.ie

Hugh McElvaney was elected onto Monaghan County Council for the ninth successive time last year. He is a four-time mayor.

During the programme, he is shown discussing a prospective payment with ‘Nina’ during their initial five-minute phone conversation.

“I have a question for you Nina, I have a question for you. What’s in it for me?,” he asks.

McElvaney goes on to say that he would be able to help and queries again, “What are you putting on the table for me?”

“Are you going to pay me by the hour or by the job?,” he asks during the same conversation.

After ‘Nina’ tells McElvaney that she’s coming to Ireland he tells her to “have plenty of Sterling with you”.

“Ten grand would be a start,” he adds.

During the course of a subsequent face-to-face meeting, the confidentiality of their dealings is stressed with McElvaney filmed saying, “if you let me down, there’ll be war.”

He agrees to be a conduit for the company but details of any financial arrangement between them are not agreed.

“There’ll be money, Sterling. But until we see how we, eh, approach it and how we succeed,” he says.

McElavaney is then filmed pretending to line his pockets as he says the following line:

If it’s not successful for you, then I’m out of the equation. But if it is successful for you, I want loads of money.

Since the undercover footage was filmed, McElvaney has left the Fine Gael party but has not issued a comment to RTÉ despite requests being made of him.

This morning, however, McElvaney has claimed that he knew RTÉ was trying to catch him out and that he was playing along as part of a counter-sting on the national broadcaster.

McElvaney told Northen Sound FM that he has “caught them (RTÉ) red handed”, although he accepts that people may find it hard to believe that he was only acting.

“They’ll find it incredible, as I say, I put PJ Gallagher and Mike Murphy in the shade. I don’t require any bribes or any corruption,” he said, agreeing ‘he’s not short of a few bob’.

“It was a piss pull, it was what we call ‘taking the piss’ out of RTÉ and I proved it,” he said.

McElvaney claims that he knows the programme will make him look bad, but that he has told many of his family and friends about the programme and informed them that his actions were just a charade.

“I have contacted a lot of people over the weekend to tell them to fasten their safety belts in the armchairs tonight.”

Joe Queenan 

Councillor Joe McQueenan - RTE Investigates - Standards in Public Office RTÉ RTÉ

In the case of Queenan, he is filmed suggesting to ‘Nina’ that he is considering setting up an agri-feed business and may be seeking investment in the future.

“An investment of say €200,000 max, I’ll repay it over a number of years,” he tells the reporter.

A statement from Queenan’s solicitors told the programme that he “was not corrupt and that he had repeatedly said he did not want a fee”.

John O’Donnell 

Councillor John O'Donnell - RTE Investigates - Standards in Public Office RTÉ RTÉ

O’Donnell is filmed discussing zoning decisions and expresses confidence that he’ll be able to lobby other councillors.

I’ve done it before on other stuff, of course. To be fair within the council I would have probably, there’s 37 there, and I would probably have 25 to 30 that are nearly always with me,” he says.

O’Donnell is filmed saying that he won’t require payment for his help but insists that a third-party would need to be involved in the project:

O’Donnell: You’d be paying him, I don’t want to be seeing to be…
‘Nina’: No, Okay, but you get paid through him?
O’Donnell: Yea, I’ll get paid through him. Does that makes sense?

O’Donnell goes on to say that he doesn’t want to be seen to be involved because “there are so many begrudgers out there.”

A statement from O’Donnell told the programme he “believed that the company might be investing in the Donegal economy and that his reference to a payment was made that I, as a businessman, might be participating in any project that materialised from work I would be participating with as a businessman.”

PastedImage-36424 RTÉ The programme shows three councillors being secretly filmed. RTÉ

Other revelations 

The programme also found that Dáil deputies Áine Collins (Fine Gael), Noel Grealish (Independent) and Tom Barry (Fine Gael) held company directorships they did not declare.

The same was the case for Senators Tom Sheehan (Fine Gael) and Mary Ann O’Brien (Independent).

The programme pointed out that, when contacted by RTÉ, they said they would correct the record. Members are allowed to correct the record throughout the time they are serving as elected representatives.

Reporter Conor Ryan says the team contacted a “significant number of local councillors” whose declared interests appeared to contain omissions.

Among those named in the programme include Cllr Paul McNamara (Fianna Fáil). He is alleged to have failed to declare his directorship of a construction company that paid €400,000 to the Revenue Commissioners and appeared on a tax defaulters list.

Minister of State Anne Phelan (Labour) is named in the programme for only registering a second home when contacted by the investigation team. She said that her failure to do so was an “oversight”.

The programme makers say that many other politicians had the same response.

John Perry TD (Fine Gael) also features for not registering a residential site in Ballymoate.

Perry’s financial affairs were previously the subject of controversy after he made a €2.4 million settlement with Danke Bank over property loans.


The exposé also features a segment about the zoning of land and contains details about the financial affairs of former Fianna Fáil Mayor of Cork and current independent councillor Alan Coleman.

It alleges that he voted in favour of a local development plan despite having an interest in a relevant plot of land.

RTÉ Investigates Standards in Public Office airs tonight at 9:35pm. 

Originally published 6am

Read: County manager investigated over house sale accusations >

Read: File sent to DPP over Donegal councillor’s expenses >

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