On the off-chance that County Monaghan Councilor Hugh McElvaney wasn’t feeling foolish enough when he woke up on Tuesday morning, the Irish public were, as always, there to help.
On Monday December 7, McElvaney was one of three Irish county councilors shown in talks with an undercover journalist from RTÉ in which he sought payment from the reporter’s fictional company in return for his off-the-record and illegal assistance in seeking planning permission for a wind farm.
The former Fine Gael councilor, who stood aside from this position last month, denies any wrongdoing despite being shown asking for £10,000 ($15,179) to assist the made-up European company.
Since the program aired on Monday, the Irish public have responded with anger and indignation that so soon after the Mahon tribunal and the promises of the Government to stop corruption, especially within the planning system, bad habits are once again being exposed among local Irish politicians.
They also responded with humor, however, not making light of the situation and the councilors’ actions but having a laugh at their expense as can be seen in this hilarious video of McElvaney set to the Los Del Rio's 1993 smash hit, Macarena.
As the program was broadcast, some Twitter users commented that the Monaghan County Councilor’s hand gestures in mimicking collecting loads of money and putting it in his pocket looked like the iconic dance and so, “Epic News with Peter & Chris” were more than willing to oblige!
McElvaney can be seen repeating his over-exaggerated moves and rubbing the table to his new catchphrases: “money”, sterling,” and “I want loads of money.”
The RTÉ “Prime Time Investigates” program about standards in public office, headed by RTÉ journalists Conor Ryan and Ken Foxe, investigated the ethical standards of Ireland’s local councilors.
In order to ensure transparency, Irish politicians are required to list all of their interests, adhere to rules if a conflict of interest arises, and are not allowed to seek any private benefit for their work.
Along with Sligo Fianna Fáil Councilor Joe Queenan and Independent Councilor John O’Donnell in Donegal, McElvaney was contacted by fake company Vinst Opportunities. Although the three politicians offered the company help in breach of the three aforementioned main requirements of an Irish politician, McElvaney, four-time mayor of Monaghan and a winner of nine successive council elections, was revealed as by far the most audacious in asking the fictional company for money.
A clip from McElvaney’s original speech can be seen here or on the RTÉ Player.
When McElvaney originally stepped aside from office last November, it was met with a standing ovation. He announced his resignation from Fine Gael at a meeting of anti-pylon protesters, stating the reason for his departure as the Fine Gael party’s decision to backtrack on its pylon policy.
The program on Monday evening revealed that this resignation came days after the councilor was approached by RTÉ regarding the footage they had captured of him seeking money from the undercover reporter, a fact that McElvaney has stated is a coincidence.
He also told an Irish radio station he knew he was being set up by RTÉ and his former party, and was aware the women was an undercover journalist.
The station said the three councilors included in the program were chosen after a detailed examination of the declarations of interest of elected representatives in the country -- 1,186 in total, including 949 councilors, 60 senators, 166 TDs and 11 MEPs.
McElvaney came to the attention of RTÉ investigators because of major gaps in his declaration of interests.
Joe Queenan, the Fianna Fáil councilor in Sligo also featured in the program, resigned within minutes of its broadcast. Although Queenan did not ask specifically for cash, he offered to act as an intermediary for the company in return for an investment in an agri-feed business he was planning.
His solicitor said in a statement, “Our client was not corrupt and repeatedly said he did not want a fee.”
The third councilor, John O’Donnell from Co. Donegal also offered to help the company, requesting that money be routed through a third party who would ensure he was paid.
He told the undercover reporter, “Politically there would be a backlash. You know the way people are … so many begrudgers out there.”