Document 7: Ruairi McHugh Interview Transcript

Annex B7

Commissioner Interview with Ruairi McHugh

27 April 2021

  • Commissioner
  • John Devitt
  • Ruairi McHugh


(TC: 00:00:00)

Commissioner: We're connected and recording. Okay. If anything should happen at any point, the time is now 14:03, if anything should happen where we get disconnected we'll wait for each other to reconnect.

(TC: 00:00:12)

Ruairi: No problem.

(TC: 00:00:14)

Commissioner: And also, I take all interviews of this nature under oath so I'm going to share a screen with you and ask if you could repeat. Yes, okay. Do you see that now, Rory?

(TC: 00:00:33)

Ruairi: Yes.

(TC: 00:00:34)

Commissioner: Okay. Could I just get you to speak that out loud please?

(TC: 00:00:38)

Ruairi: I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

(TC: 00:00:45)

Commissioner: Thank you very much. Okay. So, the reason why-, I mean, I'm sure I must have explained some of this but let me just explain the background. This is interview is that Maoliosa McHugh was in with us a few weeks back and we discussed this whole complaint that had been made against him relating to the Covid business grants scheme. And the, sort of, receiving £10,000 and the actual receipt of that being paid into an account. We went through all the details of that, the account number and all of that and we looked at that in great detail at Mr McHugh's interview. One of the things that was outstanding to me at the interview which I'd like to confirm with you amongst other things perhaps but mainly is this idea of Mr Barry McColgan who I understand it was alerted to him by yourself that you received the ten grand from LPS and that it went into this account, whatever account that was West Tyrone account. And that at that stage, he was made aware and Maoliosa

McHugh told him that it needed returned. Maoliosa actually mentions that that was between May and June. There was a number of times that he came to the office and a couple of those times it was mentioned to him to which I understand Mr McColgan said, 'Yes, I'm dealing with it,' or, 'I've dealt with it,' one or the other. Now, the problem we have is that I'm trying to find out, you know, was it in writing, or.

And so, I'm actually asking you today what you recall from the start when you received the letter. What actually happened from that point to the point where it's found that it had not been paid back?

(TC: 00:02:48)

John Devitt: It may also be helpful for us, for me, to understand, what is your role within the office? What is your relationship with Mr McHugh? And what is your relationship with anybody else associated to the other branches to do with the party? But, if you cold just explain to it in your own words how you came to be involved and your role in this whole process?

(TC: 00:03:15)

Ruairi: Probably better that I outline that first, maybe, from your point, John, just to say how everyone was. I was the Temporary Constituency Office Manager for Mr McHugh. His normal office manager went off on maternity leave and the post was advertised and I applied for it. I think there was three or four people on for the job and I got the job. Maoliosa wasn't part of any interview parlour or anything like that. So, it was totally used to within the permit of that process. I am also a Sinn Féin councillor. So, I took on that role as Temporary Constituency Office Manager for Maoliosa based in Strabane office. Now, I would have lifted the mail most mornings when I came because that time because of Covid and stuff, the mail was, kind of, very intermittent. And in fact, it was one of the queries that I was dealing with that was people not getting mail, particularly out in the rural areas. I couldn't predictably tell you the exact day that that letter came in but I know it was dated on it the 13th of April that the payment was made, the backs payment.

(TC: 00:04:38)

Commissioner: Okay.

(TC: 00:04:39)

Ruairi: Now, I immediately looked at it and I thought, 'This was verification of a £10,000 payment.' And my initial thought was that, 'Well, that could (call cuts out 04.52) qualify for that payment for what it was designed for.' And I immediately got in contact with Maoliosa immediately. I can't recall that it was exactly that day but it was certainly around that time of when I received the letter. I actually sent a WhatsApp picture on my phone to Barry McColgan saying, you know, 'This is it.' It think I spoke to him on the phone, discussed-,

(TC: 00:05:28)

Commissioner: Rory, can I ask you is that the one I received this weekend? I had asked Maoliosa to send me and it's a WhatsApp. Would that have been the same one?

(TC: 00:05:38)

Ruairi: Yes. It was. He asked me, he put me over that again prior to obviously his interview with you and he asked if I still had that on my phone. And I didn't so I screen-shotted it and sent it to Maoliosa.

(TC: 00:05:53)

Commissioner: Okay, great.

(TC: 00:05:56)

Ruairi: I remember that day I sent it to Barry McColgan and then when I went home that evening, I actually done a bit of Googling on the account that it was paid into because I knew it wasn't the account that was used for the office in Strabane. And it came up with Greencastle in County Tyrone and I think I messaged Barry McColgan to say, 'That went to Greencastle in County Tyrone which, you know.' And then, I think Barry McColgan phoned me or maybe I phoned him. I think he phoned me and we discussed it then and he explained to me that it was something, some legacy account to do with whenever Pat Doherty had been MP. And it was between Omagh office and Strabane office but there was a different accounts and he said he was sorting it.

(TC: 00:06:57)

Commissioner: This is the funny thing. He just says, 'I'm sorting it.' Is that right? 'I'm sorting it out, I'm paying it back'?

(TC: 00:07:05)

Ruairi: He said he would be sorting it out because, I mean, in terms of my role, I didn't have any access to that account.

(TC: 00:07:13)

Commissioner: Yes, I understand that. Yes. But, it's funny because he said, 'I'm sorting it out.' He doesn't say, 'Oh, I'm going to return that money.' He never says that, does he?

(TC: 00:07:27)

Ruairi: I couldn't say exactly, exact words he said but I know that I was left with the impression that he was the Constituency Manager for the whole of West Tyrone. He had been for some time so I just thought, 'Well, he knows where the mix up is or what's happening and he's the man that will sort it out.' Because, I know if I had to have the authority or the knowledge to sort it out, I would have sorted it out.'

(TC: 00:07:55)

Commissioner: Yes. (TC: 00:07:57)

John Devitt: And when you say that, Rory, if you had had the authority or knowledge, how would you have sorted it out?

(TC: 00:08:05)

Ruairi: Well, I probably would have rung either whatever body was responsible for it, the RIC or whatever to say, 'Listen, this has been paid to Maoliosa McHugh into the account that he deals with them. You know, should it have been? Or, why has it been?'

(TC: 00:08:26)

John: So, just explain to us what reassurance if any other than your first engagement and your phone call with Barry, what reassurance did you get that Barry was taking this seriously and dealing with it promptly?

(TC: 00:08:43)

Ruairi: Well, knowing the character of Barry McColgan, I would know him to be a straight enough guy so if he says to me, 'I'll get it sorted,' or whatever then, you know, the word was good enough for me. But, I do recall as well on a Friday, that's the day MLAs will all be back in their constituency so it was most likely a Friday because I know the party usually organise constituency meetings for the Strabane end of West Tyrone. Because there are two corner counties (ph 09.17), there's the Omagh corner county which is under the eastern part of West Tyrone to confuse it even more. Then the Strabane end is based in the western part of West Tyrone constituency. So, those constituency meetings were often organised on a Friday because you had your MLAs back in the constituency. And I remember Barry McColgan being in the office one Friday and Maoliosa and they were actually having a conversation in the office where I was based. And I remember it being discussed there, Maoliosa raised it. They were saying, 'What about that £10,000?' And I remember Barry, I don't remember exactly the words he said but him saying that (TC 00:10:00) he was sorting it and that would have been probably June time I would say.

(TC: 00:10:10)

John: Okay. And just for clarity for my peace of mind, Rory, what is your relationship to Maoliosa McHugh?

(TC: 00:10:19)

Ruairi: Well, he's my uncle.

(TC: 00:10:20)

John: He's your uncle. Okay.

(TC: 00:10:23)

Ruairi: Yes and obviously, in terms of the party role, he's a colleague as well. He was on the council before he was MLA so he was a colleague in that sense and still is my colleague.

(TC: 00:10:36)

John: And in relation to further down the track as it were when the media became aware of this situation, what involvement if any did you have?

(TC: 00:10:50)

Ruairi: I had no involvement at all.

(TC: 00:10:53)

John: So, you didn't take any phone calls from anybody?

(TC: 00:10:56)

Ruairi: No, not once from any media person.

(TC: 00:11:01)

John: Do you know whether Barry took a phone call or not?

(TC: 00:11:03)

Ruairi: I don't.

(TC: 00:11:09)

John: And in relation to your further engagement with your uncle, Mr McHugh, what further discussions or conversations did you have with him?

(TC: 00:11:22)

Ruairi: He would have consulted me a couple of times just around, you know, when exactly I knew about it and just confirming with me what I've told you basically that I had said to Barry McColgan about it and I had brought it to Maoliosa's attention as well. And then he obviously had asked me if I still had that WhatsApp on my phone, the one I sent to Barry McColgan. You know, the photograph of the letter.

(TC: 00:11:50)

John: Yes. Can you help us with this then, Rory? We know that the party itself did their own internal investigation. Were you part and parcel of that investigation?

(TC: 00:12:05)

Ruairi: No.

(TC: 00:12:06)

Commissioner: You see, that's the bit that I'm curious about. You know, the investigation was done and there were people lost their jobs including Mr McColgan. And yet, well I suppose, you had worked there in that capacity. Do you still work in that capacity in that office?

(TC: 00:12:26)

Ruairi: That role was over last year.

(TC: 00:12:29)

Commissioner: Okay. So, maybe that's why you weren't involved in any, sort of,-, nobody asked you about pay back or anything like that during that investigation? No?

(TC: 00:12:39)

Ruairi: No.

(TC: 00:12:41)

Commissioner: Okay.

(TC: 00:12:45)

John: Was anybody from the office involved in the internal investigation or interviewed or made any statements that you're aware of?

(TC: 00:12:53)

Ruairi: Not that I'm aware of.

(TC: 00:12:55)

Commissioner: And so, who would they have based their information on? McColgan?

(TC: 00:13:00)

Ruairi: Well, I don't know if there was any investigation. I mean, if there was an investigation, I wasn't part of it.

(TC: 00:13:08)

Commissioner: Okay. But, see Mr McColgan, when this all happened did you have any conversations with him regarding his, sort of, view on what was going on once it became in the media and once it came out in the media that he hadn't paid it back?

(TC: 00:13:29)

Ruairi: The only further contact I had with Barry McColgan was he phoned me to tell me he was resigning and that was it.

(TC: 00:13:40)

Commissioner: Did he say why he was resigning, or?

(TC: 00:13:43)

Ruairi: All he said was it's his fault that he should have done it.

(TC: 00:13:47)

Commissioner: So, he said it was his fault because he should have paid it back, is that correct?

(TC: 00:13:51)

Ruairi: He should have dealt with it. I can't say that those were the exact words but it was, you know, it was sentiment.

(TC: 00:13:57)

Commissioner: Yes, yes. (TC: 00:13:59)

John: And, Rory, when you got that phone call from Barry, presumably, you were still in post at that time as the office manager?

(TC: 00:14:10)

Ruairi: Yes.

(TC: 00:14:11)

John: And did you or did you not notify your uncle, Mr McHugh, regarding that conversation?

(TC: 00:14:21)

Ruairi: I'm sure we probably discussed it but, I mean, I don't recall specifically coming off the phone to Barry McColgan and then ringing Maoliosa.

(TC: 00:14:30)

John: Now, and that's understandable because there's been a bit of time lapse in between, our role, our purpose is just to clarify and chronologise what we already know or what we think we know.

(TC: 00:14:43)

Ruairi: Yes. Going back to your question too about me still being on post. I'm not even sure if I was still on post because I left in early October 2019 or sorry, 2020. So, I'm trying to think in my head, was I still on?

(TC: 00:15:04)

Commissioner: No, you wouldn't have been because I have reviewed information regarding the radio show, the media coverage of this and it was 26th of October, 28th of October. You know, way late in October of 2020. So, my guess is that you would not have been in post if you left before the end of October.

(TC: 00:15:27)

Ruairi: Yes, well I must have been then. Because it's confusing too because of the Covid so you were working from home sometimes and then maybe you were in the office, you know, so.

(TC: 00:15:36)

Commissioner: Yes, I do. I know completely. Years are going by and you don't know they've gone by, I think. Do you know what I was going to ask you? You said something earlier and Maoliosa McHugh said the same, funny enough, that Barry McColgan, he was a stand up guy, if he said heh was going to do it he would do it. That made you think that he'd have dealt with it, if he said he was going to deal with it, he would have dealt with it. Is that correct? If you could tell me more about that, you know, the man who said to Maoliosa, 'I'm dealing with it.' And he said it to you as well. And you guys, you know, it wasn't as if you were second guessing he would do that.

(TC: 00:16:22)

Ruairi: No. But we weren't second guessing it, we would do it probably in the back of our minds we were thinking, 'Knowing Barry, he might have it on the back burner,' or something. But, I'm sure the reason he was asked about it again was because the potential ramifications of it if it wasn't sorted out. And then, you know, he said on more than one occasion that he was sorting it out so, I suppose, he just thought, 'No wonder, man (ph 16.51).' That he'll eventually sort it out, you know. It's just regrettable that he didn't sort it out when he should have.

(TC: 00:17:01)

John: And just again to be clear, am I right in thinking that Barry would not have had to have anybody else's authority to send that money back? He could have done that off his own accord and off his own authority?

(TC: 00:17:18)

Ruairi: Well, I would imagine so. He was the West Tyrone organiser, so.

(TC: 00:17:26)

John: And if what you've told us is it had come in, you knew you weren't entitled to it, so he would have known the same thing presumably?

(TC: 00:17:36)

Ruairi: Sorry, John, you're breaking up there.

(TC: 00:17:38)

John: Did I break up? Okay. Let me repeat the question. I'm trying to establish whether Barry would have had the authority to refund the money without getting authority from someone else and he would have known that you had asked him and he'd reassured you that he would sort it. Is that correct? Is that the chronology of events?

(TC: 00:18:05)

Ruairi: Well, he was the person who was in charge of that account. I don't know who had authority with that account so I don't know. I can't answer if he would have had to seek permission or ask somebody else to send that money back. I mean, I don't know the minutiae of the workings in West Tyrone but, you know, he was the West Tyrone Constituency organiser. So, to me, that's the Head Line Manager or whatever you want to call it of West Tyrone. So, I presume but I can't say for certain that he would have had the authority to pay that money back, without anybody else's yes..

(TC: 00:18:52)

John: Okay. Does that follow then that Barry would have been the only one with authority and that Mr McHugh had no authority?

(TC: 00:19:05)

Ruairi: To do with that account that that money was paid into?

(TC: 00:19:09)

John: Yes.

(TC: 00:19:10)

Ruairi: Well, as far as I'm aware, Maoliosa McHugh had absolutely no authority with that account as neither did I because seeing that letter was the first time I knew of that account, so.

(TC: 00:19:21)

John: Okay. No, that's cleared that issue up for us.

(TC: 00:19:28)

Commissioner: Can I ask on clarification question, how many times do you think or can you recall, you mentioned one you heard them talking about it in the office that Friday. That was in June perhaps and you mentioned the email, the WhatsApp you sent just showing him that it was paid into that Greencastle account. That first WhatsApp, I'm assuming am I right in saying that it was a follow up to having already informed him about that or no?

(TC: 00:19:56)

Ruairi: Yes it must have been because, you know, I still have it on my phone even because (TC 00:20:00) it's just me sending-, there's a whole series of messages through our constituency things and then me sending the photograph of the letter. So, it must have been earlier that day when I was in the office that I spoke to Barry McColgan and I would suspect it was me to phone him about it obviously because they had come to the office, so. And then when I got home, you know, it was bugging me and I wanted to find out so I Googled the-,

(TC: 00:20:30)

Commissioner: Sort code.

(TC: 00:20:32)

Ruairi: The sort code and all that, it came up Greencastle and I was like, 'What?' And then I messaged Barry saying that sort code is Greencastle and then rung me then.

(TC: 00:20:43)

Commissioner: Okay. And that's when he said to you he'll sort it?

(TC: 00:20:47)

Ruairi: Well, I can't remember the words but it must be it was to discuss that.

(TC: 00:20:53)

Commissioner: So, that was two discussions on that day plus a WhatsApp discussion.

(TC: 00:20:56)

Ruairi: Yes.

(TC: 00:20:57)

Commissioner: And then that's May-, sorry, that's April. Do you remember any conversations before that June time that were had in relation to this money? I'm just trying to track how many times that Barry McColgan actually was asked did he pay back the money.

(TC: 00:21:16)

Ruairi: I can't specifically say because in my mind, probably I could have spoken to Barry McColgan maybe two or three times a day on an issue or maybe two or three times a week and then maybe not spoken to him the next week. And I would safely say it probably came up in conversations like me saying to him, 'Hey, what about that ten grand? Or whatever. But, definitely, I couldn't say yes I did speak to him again on the phone about it. But, I definitely know I spoke to him that day that I sent the WhatsApp and I specifically recall making a reference to it that day in the office when Maoliosa was there. Those are the two definite times it was quite likely that it was mentioned.

(TC: 00:22:03)

Commissioner: Between times.

(TC: 00:22:05)

Ruairi: Between those two times but I just thought he was dealing with it and he was the West Tyrone Constituency Manager.

(TC: 00:22:15)

Commissioner: No problem. Okay.

(TC: 00:22:17)

John: So, Rory, just because you thought he was dealing with it, did you understand that Mr McHugh, Maoliosa was also understanding that Barry was dealing with it?

(TC: 00:22:29)

Ruairi: Yes. That was my understanding of it.

(TC: 00:22:33)

John: And did Maoliosa discuss it with you other than the dates and times that you've shared with is so far?

(TC: 00:22:40)

Ruairi: Not, again, not that I can recall specifically. It's very possible that it could have been mentioned but after that meeting in June in the office, I don't have any recollection of it being discussed again.

(TC: 00:22:57)

John: So, would my analysis be correct that you had alerted Maoliosa McHugh about it, you told him that you'd spoken to Barry on a couple of occasions (call cuts out 23:11) Maoliosa to give him some reassurance that it was being dealt with. Is that a fair analysis?

(TC: 00:23:22)

Ruairi: Yes. You broke up again there, John, a wee bit but I got most of what you said and if I'm reading you right, that will be my interpretation of events certainly.

(TC: 00:23:33)

John: Yes. I mean, to be honest with you, Rory, all we're trying to establish is the efforts that Maoliosa McHugh went to to ensure that the correct thing was done and the money was paid back at the earlier opportunity.

(TC: 00:23:50)

Ruairi: Yes.

(TC: 00:23:52)

Commissioner: In other words, it seems as if from what you're saying, that you didn't just send him the thing on the April 13th of 14th of whatever day that you were alerted and then leave it. It was brought up again at least once from what you can recall.

(TC: 00:24:07)

Ruairi: Yes.

(TC: 00:24:08)

Commissioner: You know, that is important to this case because clearly, as you said earlier, there was an acknowledgement on Maoliosa's and yourself's part that this was a big thing that had to be dealt with, it wasn't something small. But, it wasn't anything you also had control over giving back. So, what I'm saying is, it was not just the one, 'There you go, up to you and over to you,' and you all forgot about it. It was mentioned again at least once from your memory in June.

(TC: 00:24:39)

Ruairi: Yes. That day that Barry was in the office and Maoliosa was in the office, it was mentioned there definitely because they were standing in front of my desk.

(TC: 00:24:50)

Commissioner: Okay, yes. Okay. I mean, you can appreciate this is difficult only because it's a memory thing, it's a while ago and also there's not a lot of writing about it. It's not something you were memoing to each other, it was when you were in the office it was mentioned. You know, I'm not making a judgement on that, I'm simply saying this is why I have to understand further what people can remember.

(TC: 00:25:13)

Ruairi: Yes. Just probably the fact too that I was in that role temporary, maybe if I had been in that role on a permanent basis maybe I could have made in hindsight, you know, hindsight is a good thing but maybe I might have pressed the issue a bit more. But, I'd only just been in the job since January and Barry McColgan was above me, like, so if he said he was sorting it, you know.

(TC: 00:25:44)

Commissioner: I do, I get that. Yes. John, do you have any further questions?

(TC: 00:25:49)

John: No, I don't, Rory. I think you've been very helpful and you've filled in some missing gaps for us. So, we're very grateful to you for that.

(TC: 00:25:56)

Commissioner: Yes. I thank you so much for actually, you know, coming on and helping us out with this. And also, do you have any questions for us I should ask?

(TC: 00:26:05)

Ruairi: No. When does the report for this come out or do you know that?

(TC: 00:26:12)

Commissioner: I mean, this bit of evidence was something I really am trying to nail down a bit and then it should be after that.

(TC: 00:26:24)

Ruairi: That's all from me.

(TC: 00:26:24)

Commissioner: Yes, okay. Listen, thank you so much again and have a good evening anyway.

(TC: 00:26:29)

Ruairi: Same to yourselves, thank you.

(TC: 00:26:31)

Commissioner: Nice to meet you, take care.

(TC: 00:26:32)

John: Thanks, Rory. Thank you.

(TC: 00:26:34)

Commissioner: Bye bye.

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