High Court places temporary stay on ethics investigation into Kerry councillor

The High Court heard that a complaint was made against Breandan Fitzgerald with regards to voting on an aspect of a draft local area plan
High Court places temporary stay on ethics investigation into Kerry councillor

The stay is to remain in place until the matter returns before the court in two weeks' time. File photo

A temporary stay has been placed by the High Court on an ongoing investigation being conducted by Kerry County Council into a complaint made against one of its elected members.

The stay was granted by Mr Justice Charles Meenan in favour of councillor Breandan Fitzgerald from Dingle, who represents the Castleisland-Corca Dhuibhne electoral area in Co Kerry.

The High Court heard that he is the subject of an investigation, under Ethics Legislation, arising out of a complaint made against him earlier this year. The allegation relates to Mr Fitzgerald voting on an aspect of a draft local area plan for Corca Dhuibhne.

The councillor strongly denies any wrongdoing and says he has no interest nor any connection with the lands that were the subject of the vote. He also claims that he absented himself on two previous votes on other aspects of the draft local area plan, as he had a family connection with those particular lands.

Conflict of interest

The investigation, which Mr Fitzgerald fully co-operated with, was initially carried out by the Council's Cathaoirleach Jimmy Moloney and chief executive Moira Murrell, who prepared a draft report into the allegation against Mr Fitzgerald.

The court heard that it was now accepted that the Cathaoirleach should not have been involved in the process due to a conflict of interest.

Mr Fitzgerald's counsel Elizabeth Murphy, instructed by solicitor Paul O'Donoghue, told the High Court that her client intends to seek permission to bring High Court judicial review proceedings against Kerry County Council aimed at stopping the investigation.

The council had proposed that the Cathaoirleach should be substituted by the council's Leas-Cathaoirleach Michael Cahill, and that the CEO would continue to participate in the investigation, counsel said.

Mr Fitzgerald's case is that the CEO's continued involvement is in breach of fair procedures, breaches his rights, and should be halted by an order of the High Court. The investigation should be recommenced and conducted by two new persons, it is claimed.

Counsel said that despite her client's objections, the council intends to continue with the investigation with the CEO as one of the investigators.

As a result, counsel said her client was asking the court to put a temporary stay on the investigation from proceeding pending Mr Fitzgerald's application for leave to bring his challenge could be heard.

After considering submissions Mr Justice Meenan said he was prepared, on an ex-parte basis, to place a stay on the investigation from proceedings.

The stay, the judge added, is to remain in place until the matter returns before the court in two weeks' time. If the respondent wishes to have the stay lifted, the judge said, they may make an application to the court on 48 hours' notice to Mr Fitzgerald.

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