Three sitting councillors are to face ethics’ inquiries this September after the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC) announced it is to hold hearings into the men were filmed by an undercover researcher as part of the RTÉ Investigates – Standards in Public Office programme.

The three councillors are Joe Queenan (Sligo County Council); John O’Donnell (Donegal County Council) and Hugh McElvaney (Monaghan County Council).

They will face individual hearings over different days starting on September 10th. The hearings before the six-member Commission will decide if the politicians breached the ethical framework under the Local Government Act 2001. 

This framework sets the rules for what councillors must declare and forbids them from accepting third-party payment for their work as a public representative.

In the RTÉ Investigates – Standards in Public Office programme, first broadcast in December 2015 all three men were secretly filmed during individual meetings with an undercover researcher.

The researcher purported to be working on behalf of international windfarm financiers, a fictitious company ‘Vinst Opportunities’. Each of the councillors agreed to meet the researcher.

The three councillors were contacted following a wider investigation by the programme team into the non-disclosure of assets by politicians across the country.

Cllr. Joe Queenan

First to face a SIPOC hearing will be Joe Queenan, a former mayor of Sligo, who resigned the Fianna Fail party whip and apologised to the people of Sligo immediately after the programme.

The undercover footage of his meeting included his commitment to work for the windfarm project and he suggested that if the investors were interested in other projects they could lend him money for his own business.

Following the broadcast he went on radio and claimed he was only speaking about a hypothetical situation in relation to his financing requirements and labelled the filming as a "sting".

Mr Queenan’s appearance before SIPOC will be followed on September 11 by John O’Donnell, an independent member of Donegal County Council, who was first elected in 2014.

Cllr. John O'Donnell

When he met the undercover reporter he offered to work "tirelessly" on behalf of the investors but stressed that he would have to be paid through a business partner as he did not want to be seen to be associated with a controversial windfarm.

Mr O’Donnell later claimed that he had been speaking in his capacity as a businessman and not as a local councillor.

The final hearing in September will look into the conduct of former Fine Gael stalwart, Hugh McElvaney, who resigned the party whip after he was notified of the impending broadcast of the RTÉ Investigates programme in 2015.

Cllr. Hugh McElvaney

During a meeting with the undercover reporter the veteran councillor explicitly sought cash payments in sterling denominations in exchange for working for the investors.  He said he would not seek payment if the project was not successful. 

This had followed a short introductory phone call in which he pitched the services he could provide.

In media interviews immediately before the broadcast and shortly afterwards Mr McElvaney claimed he went into the encounter with the undercover in the knowledge that it was a sting and he was eager to play along.

Earlier this year he was listed on the Revenue Commissioner’s list of tax defaulters and was hit with a bill of just under €50,000 for tax, penalties and interest.

All three councillors still hold their seats on their respective local authorities sitting as independent members.