The Taoiseach said there must be “clear divisions” between public representatives and matters before the court after comments by Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly about bankrupt businessman Seán Quinn angered party colleagues.
Both Enda Kenny and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney attempted to distance themselves from remarks by Mr Kelly, who praised those who took part in a rally of support for the Quinn family on Sunday.
Following concern among Fine Gael colleagues, the Ireland South MEP yesterday backtracked on his comments. “I said that people have the right to show their support in such a way under freedom of expression,” he said in a statement.
“I did not give any opinion on court proceedings regarding the Quinn family. The ongoing judicial proceedings against the Quinn family are a matter for the courts. It is up to the courts to decide such legal matters.”
The former GAA president had said in an interview with Kerry Radio on Monday that the Quinn family had always committed to the organisation, both financially and in terms of their time.
He said a rally in Cavan on Sunday night was “an expression of moral support”, adding: “We’d probably do exactly the same thing down here in Kerry if someone who was very loyal to us was in difficulty.”
Speaking in Galway, the Taoiseach said elected representatives should stay out of matters before the court.
Mr Kenny said he did not hear the interview Mr Kelly gave.
The Taoiseach said: “Look, the threads of the Gaelic Athletic Association run very deep in Ireland. It is a particularly unique organisation.
“However there are matters relevant to the courts here, and matters relevant to the retrieval, on behalf of the Irish taxpayer, of assets in terms of their realisable value.
“While people are entitled to their personal opinions, in the case of where public personalities get involved in what might be seen to be support but clearly there are implications in terms of contempt of court issues in both cases, things might be better left alone.”
Mr Coveney said Mr Kelly’s comments were made “in a personal capacity as a former president of the GAA”.
But he added: “I must say, for public representatives to be making comments that are contrary to the findings of the judiciary is always something where I’d be very wary [of].”
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said that while there’s “strong emotions in support of the Quinns”, neither “loyalty nor emotion can be allowed to get in the way of justice being done”.
She said that IRBC — formerly Anglo Irish Bank — and Irish Nationwide are now fully state owned and “money owed by the Quinns is money owed to the State”.
Socialist MEP Paul Murphy said Mr Kelly’s remarks were a “disgrace”. He said it was the “height of hypocrisy” that a Fine Gael public representative “is standing in solidarity with a man whose greed has seen him try to hide his assets in an attempt to make the taxpayer pick up the tab for his gambling debts” while at the same time Fine Gael is “hounding people with household charge letters”.
A Fianna Fáil councillor yesterday offered his support to the Quinn family. Former mayor of Galway, Michael Crowe, told Galway Bay FM there was some merit in the argument that Seán Quinn had been made a scapegoat by the banks.
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