An ethics hearing into the conduct of a Sligo county councillor has been allowed to proceed after the Standards in Public Office Commission ruled that the attendance of an undercover reporter was not required.
Former Fianna Fáil councillor Joe Queenan faced multiple counts of breaching ethics' legislation by soliciting investment in his business and failing to declare certain interests in his annual declaration of interests.
The Commission is sitting today to review the actions of Cllr Queenan which were secretly recorded on camera during an undercover investigation carried out by the RTÉ Investigations Unit.
It followed a complaint by the chief executive of Sligo County Council and a report carried out by the local authority's ethics registrar.
This complaint referred the matter to the Commission on the grounds that there appeared to be evidence that Cllr Queenan broke the Ethics' Act and the Code of Conduct for councillors in seeking investment for a personal business venture during a meeting to discuss potential wind farm developments in Co Sligo.
A subsequent inquiry carried out by SIPO said there was prima facea evidence to justify a full hearing.
This morning counsel for Cllr Queenan had asked for the hearing to be struck out on the grounds that the undercover reporter, who was in the room with him, was not available to be cross examined and was not identified.
However, the Commission ruled that the undercover reporter was not Cllr Queenan's accuser as the complaint was referred by Sligo County Council and the hearing could be held on the basis of the evidence before it.
Cllr Queenan's counsel had sought to question the undercover reporter because her "deamour was flirtatious... (designed to) illicit a specific response".
In particular, he said, hidden camera footage recorded after Cllr Queenan left the room showed the undercover reporter fixing a button on her blouse.
An RTÉ cameraman was called and gave evidence that the microphone was fixed to the button of her top and this had to be removed.
In a statement read to the hearing Cllr Queenan's defence said he had not done wrong and was the victim of attempted entrapment.
"He never promised to do anything that he was not entitled to do as a county councillor... He promised no more or no less than a county councillor would," it said.
The hearing officially began this morning and will continue for three days examining each of the councillors - Cllr Queenan (Sligo County Council), John O’Donnell (Donegal County Council) and Hugh McElvaney (Monaghan County Council).
Today’s hearing is dealing with the case of Mr Queenan and will deal with Mr O’Donnell tomorrow and Mr McElvaney next Monday.
It will report on each case in a few weeks' time.