DEFENCE Minister Willie O’Dea has been called upon to explain to the Dáil how he swore an inaccurate affidavit concerning defamatory remarks he made about a Sinn Féin councillor.
In the affidavit, Mr O’Dea denied making the remarks linking Sinn Féin’s Maurice Quinlivan to a brothel in Limerick, only to later apologise and pay damages to the councillor.
Fine Gael has been pushing the issue in recent weeks, demanding an explanation from Mr O’Dea as to why he originally denied making the comments in the affidavit.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore added to the pressure on Mr O’Dea yesterday, saying it was “a serious matter”.
He called on Mr O’Dea to make a statement to the Dáil and accept questions on the issue from TDs.
“When somebody swears an affidavit, it is the equivalent of giving sworn evidence in court,” Mr Gilmore told RTÉ.
“And when it transpires that what is said in that affidavit is not accurate, it has the same meaning as if it were said in court.”
Mr Gilmore insisted there was a public interest in the case because of Mr O’Dea’s role as a Government minister.
But Justice Minister Dermot Ahern defended Mr O’Dea and criticised the opposition — and Fine Gael in particular — for pushing the issue.
“I have full confidence in Willie O’Dea and I think it’s pretty despicable of the opposition to be using things like this,” Mr Ahern said.
“They should be attacking Government on policies, not on personalities. But unfortunately, I suppose Fine Gael are returning to type. They’ve always tried to get the dirt on people and I think it’s despicable to be honest.”
In response, Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan accused Mr Ahern of resorting to “tribal tendencies” and ignoring a matter of public importance.
“It is a fundamental role of the opposition in any democracy to insist that all office holders in Government behave to the highest standards of transparency and probity,” Mr Flanagan said. “Serious questions have arisen in regard to a Cabinet minister and it is critical to the credibility of the office that questions be answered in the Dáil and that all concerned are held to account.
“The Government pursued the same tactics of invective-filled attack during the period Bertie Ahern was being questioned at the Mahon Tribunal in order to distract from attempts to get at the truth,” he added.
Mr Flanagan has signalled his intention to raise the matter when the Taoiseach is taking questions in the Dáil.
But Mr O’Dea, writing in his regular column in the Sunday Independent at the weekend, accused Fine Gael of attempting “character assassination”.
Mr O’Dea said he had simply made a mistake when recalling the interview in which the comments about Mr Quinlivan were made.
“I was mistaken in my memory of the details in my original statement. It was a genuine omission based on my flawed recollection of an interview.
“This was accepted in the settlement between all sides agreed in court. All fair-minded people would have seen this as an end to the matter,” he said.
Background of story: Defamation action by Sinn Féin councillor
ON March 10 last year, the Limerick Chronicle, sister paper of the Limerick Leader, published comments by Defence Minister Willie O’Dea which linked local Sinn Féin councillor Maurice Quinlivan to an apartment in the city which was being used as a brothel.
Mr Quinlivan launched a legal action, claiming he had been defamed and had suffered damage to his reputation as a result of the comments.
The councillor, 42, accepted that the apartment in question was owned by his brother, Nessan, but said neither he nor his family had any knowledge of, or involvement with, any illegal activity that occurred there.
In April, Mr O’Dea swore an affidavit denying that he had made the comments in the interview. But the newspaper had a recording of the interview which demonstrated that Mr O’Dea had made them.
In December, the action was settled, with Mr O’Dea apologising to Mr Quinlivan and accepting that he was “a person of the highest integrity”.
In a statement read before the High Court by Mr O’Dea’s lawyer, the minister also apologised for originally denying that he had made the comments.
But he stressed the denial had been an innocent mistake and that there had been no attempt to mislead.
The statement also said that Mr Quinlivan accepted there had been no intention on behalf of the minister to mislead by making the denial.
Mr O’Dea paid damages and costs in respect of the proceedings.
He later explained that he had been aware a recording of the interview had been made, but said his memory of the interview had simply been flawed.
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