Document 8: Deputy First Minister (DFM) Michelle O’Neill MLA Interview Transcript

Annex B8

Commissioner interview with DFM Michelle O’Neill MLA

4 May 2021


[00:00:00] Dr. Melissa McCullough: Okay, that's it recording.
[00:00:05] DFM Michelle O’Neill MLA: You just wanted to speak about Maolíosa's situation?
[00:00:08] Melissa: Yes. I'll follow this just to have it on record so that when it goes into the report, it's on the record. That this is being tape-recorded. I'm Dr. Melissa McCullough, Standards Commissioner for the Assembly, and John Devitt is here as the second interviewer. Interviewing in room 222, Parliament Buildings. The day is the 4th of May and the time is 11:04. How would you like us to address you today?

[00:00:30] Michelle: Michelle is fine.

[00:00:31] Melissa: Michelle is fine?

[00:00:31] Michelle: Yes.

[00:00:31] Melissa: Okay, great. I'm going to just ask you to read this. Everyone takes the oath. It's either the oath with the Bible or the Witness Acclamation.
They're the same in outcome. Which would you prefer?

[00:00:40] Michelle: [unintelligible 00:00:40]

[00:00:41] Melissa: If you just take the affirmation then, speak it out loud. The bottom one.

[00:00:46] Michelle: The bottom one, yes? 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.

[00:00:53] Melissa: Thank you very much. Just for the purpose of clarity, the matters that I'm investigating relate to the two complaints against Mr. McHugh, and they basically are about the return of the COVID grant money.

[00:01:03] Michelle: Yes.

[00:01:05] Melissa: Now, I've already confirmed a lot of the evidence with Mr. McHugh and we had a long interview with him. I have lots of evidence just about the whole check and the accounts. I'm not worried about that at the moment, but what I have is that he did actually say that he's certain that he said to Mr. McColgan, at least three times. Now, I'm looking at the reasonableness of how many times should he have asked to make sure that it is paid back. He had no control over the account, we've ascertained that, and he had no control over paying it back, because he had no control over the account.

However, I can't get confirmation of the three times at least, that he might have said to Mr. McColgan and then repeated back to him he had-- What was this words [unintelligible 00:01:52] used? "I'm dealing with it." That's what Mr. McColgan would say to them, "I'm dealing with it." He never said to them, "I paid it back." That is his way of saying he was working on it, was that he was dealing with it.

I really would want to get some corroborating evidence. Now, Mr. McHugh and of course, it was in the media that there was an investigation [unintelligible 00:02:10]Mr. McHugh then after his interview, sent me a little statement from Mary Lou McDonald saying that they've investigated or whatever.

[00:02:19] Michelle: Yes.

[00:02:20] Melissa: I'm just more interested in the granular detail of whether or not you know if Mr. McColgan, firstly, if he actually was reminded a number of times, and if that investigation highlighted that or not, because I just want some corroboration of that.

[00:02:35] Michelle: Yes. I think investigation is probably the wrong word.

[00:02:37] Melissa: Okay.

[00:02:39] Michelle: First, just to put it in context, we learned about it in the media at the start of the week. I think that was a Monday morning. Something on [unintelligible 00:02:44], whatever program was doing it. Immediately, they had sent party officials off to see has this happened in any of our offices. That's where the cases came back, the three that were then established, which accepted resignations in every case because due diligence wasn't fulfilled basically from all the parts.

In Maoliosa's case, and I had spoken to Barry McColgan myself actually at different times, and Barry had said that Maolíosa had said to him repeatedly to get it sorted. He said he had problems getting through the phone. He had all sorts of communications issues, and that was why it just happened at that point. That's as far as details concerned, that's the only thing that I would have, that he has actually directly said that to me that he was asked on a number of occasions by Maolíosa to pay the money back and make sure it was sorted.

[00:03:33] Melissa: From his mouth to you, he has said that he was asked by Mr. McHugh.

[00:03:38] Michelle: Yes.

[00:03:39] Melissa: Really, that's what I'm looking for here. It's some further information because there's no writing of this because it all happened while they were in the constituency office, when he would visit occasionally during that time.

[00:03:48] Michelle: Yes. Probably like, "Is that sorted?" That type of questions.

[00:03:50] Melissa: Yes, that's it. There really is nothing in writing. Not that I expect it to be in writing, I just want to make sure that there is no stone left unturned because these investigations have to be that way

[00:04:02] Michelle: No, I understand that, of course.

[00:04:05] Melissa: He did say it under oath, so I trust that he's not telling an untruth, but just to make sure. At one point I was actually thinking, will I go ahead and contact Mr. McColgan, I'm not sure how that's [unintelligible 00:04:18]

[00:04:19] Michelle: He's out of the country but I'm not sure where he is.

[unintelligible 00:04:20]  [information redacted]
[00:04:22] Melissa: Do you know, I think--
[00:04:23] Michelle: He's teaching English somewhere, so I think--

[00:04:25] Melissa: Okay, so he's out of the country, yes.

[00:04:28] Michelle: You could contact him, if you wish. I'm quite sure he would be-

[00:04:30] Melissa: Would he be happy to answer [crosstalk]

[00:04:32] Michelle: To confirm? Yes.

[00:04:33] Melissa: Yes, just to confirm something.

[00:04:34] Michelle: I don't see why he wouldn't.

[00:04:35] Melissa: Yes, because that was my main thing to ask, really. Was that something that-- In terms of, Mr. McHugh was not one of the people that was like [unintelligible 00:04:44] for example. Like McHugh, McColgan, and there are a couple of others. I'm making an assumption that it's because he really didn't have anything to do with that.

[00:04:54] Michelle: Yes, because Barry had put signs up and said it was his. Maolíosa obviously, ultimately, some of that falls back on him, but he did say that he did instruct Barry to do it on more than one occasion. As far as he's concerned, his office had it all sorted.

[00:05:09] Melissa: Yes, I know. That's where I thought it was at. Exactly, but again just for thoroughness--

[00:05:17] Michelle: I have no doubt that if you needed to phone Barry or-- I think he's in Thailand. I will have to double-check but wherever he's at, I'm quite sure he'd be a pretty decent guy. I think he would.

[00:05:26] Melissa: Yes, I'm wondering how-- Would you have contact details in any way?

[00:05:29] Michelle: Yes, I'll see what I can find [inaudible 00:05:31]

[00:05:31] Melissa: Really? That'd be great. That would be great. If I could just get in touch with him just to close it all, because I actually can get my report done then, in relation to this which would be nice. I think they were the main things that I-- I don't know if you have anything, John?

[00:05:46] John: No, I just want to clarify if I may. In relation to the internal due diligence, as you call it, that was done, is there a written report anywhere?

[00:05:56] Michelle: No, because really as soon as it was emerged in the media, we immediately head office and said get in touch with everybody in each area and ask them to clarify the situation in their area and report back. The three things that came back were the three areas that we accepted resignations from. That was all done within 36 hours. It was completely turned around and we discussed it as a leadership and accepted their resignations.

[00:06:18] John: At any time was Mr. McHugh interviewed or officially spoken to?

[00:06:23] Michelle: Not in an official way but obviously just the same way head office would have been in touch to say, "Check your accounts. Check and has any of this money been paid in, and make sure it's returned if it has been paid in." Everybody paid it back within, I think within 36 hours. I'm not totally clear of the details but I imagine it was all done by either Tuesday or Wednesday.

Everything was paid back and then the resignations were accepted.

[00:06:47] John: That was my next question. Did Barry resign as a result of this or was he dismissed?

[00:06:53] Michelle: Resigned. We accepted his resignation because of a failure to carry out due diligence because this is public confidence. This is public money and all those reasons, so there was no reason not to accept his resignation to do the right thing by the public mind.

[00:07:09] John: If I've understood you correctly, he's taken full accountability for not doing what Mr. McHugh asked him to do?

[00:07:16] Michelle: Which is why he's resigning, John.

[00:07:18] John: Thank you.

[00:07:22] Melissa: Do you have any questions [unintelligible 00:07:23]?

[00:07:23] Michelle: No, but I'll see if I can get you a contact. Would you want to speak to him on the phone or Zoom?

[00:07:27] Melissa: I can speak to him on the phone, yes, or Zoom. I mean whichever he prefers. Actually, whichever he prefers. I could record it on Zoom which would be helpful for the transcript, but it's literally just to get confirmation. It sounds, I know it's Maolíosa that is important. It's a [crosstalk] investigation.

[00:07:41] Michelle: No, I understand that. You have a job to do, of course.

[00:07:44] Melissa: Yes, that would be great. I'm going to end the interview. It's 12 minutes past 11. Thank you so much for coming.

[00:07:51] [END OF AUDIO]

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