Donegal county councillor John O’Donnell allowed his public responsibilities to be merged to a significant degree with his personal business interests, a public hearing into alleged breaches of ethics legislation has heard.
Barrister for the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipoc) James Doherty made the claim at a public hearing in Dublin into allegations that the Kilmacrennan independent councillor breached the Ethical Frameworks for the Local Government Service when he was secretly filmed in an RTÉ Investigates programme which was broadcast in December 2015.
A complaint was made by Donegal County Council against the county councilor to Sipoc following the broadcast of the RTÉ Investigations Unit programme to the Standards in Public Office Commission in December 2015.
Audio and video recordings of conversations between the independent councillor and the undercover researcher have been played at the hearing.
In the recordings Ms Carlson said the company she was representing had no experience of investing in Ireland and she was seeking assistance with the planning process from the councillor. Mr O'Donnell was secretly recorded on camera during the undercover investigation where a researcher, using the name Nina Carlson, posed as a representative of an investment company interested in possible wind-farm ventures.
Mr O'Donnell said "we would need to work very quietly on this" as he is a public representative.
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 wind-farm.
At one stage during the recording, Mr O'Donnell told Ms Carlson, “I'm a mover and a shaker”.
Mr Doherty said: “It appears to a very great extent that councillor O'Donnell allowed his public responsibilities to be conflated to a significant degree with his personal business interests.”
He said the apparent conflation of the public obligations he has as an elected official and the business interests he had are very clear.
Barrister for Mr O’Donnell, Mark O’Connell, said his client had been “negligent” but had not sought to enrich himself.
“My client was a businessman,” he said. “He was seeking to promote a commercial project in Donegal, which he believed in and thought was a good idea. Obviously, the issue is that there are demarcation lines with his role as a councillor.
“I don’t believe it’s fair to say he was intentional or reckless in his disregard for that demarcation. I think his role as a businessman was probably mixed up with that as a councillor. I don’t think there’s a doubt about that.
“But I think his overall intention was to be as open as he could. The demarcations between his roles as a businessman and a politician were clearly blurred. I believe this was negligence and nothing more than that.
“Cllr O’Donnell did not seek money. He did not exact money, and he did not accept money.”
Submissions will be heard on October 5.
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