Simon Harris ‘happy’ for John McGahon to seek Fine Gael nomination despite court fine for assault and battery

Taoiseach spoke as he marked the appointment of Nikki Bradley to the Seanad in place of Regina Doherty

Nikki Bradley,a disability rights campaigner, has been selected by Taoiseach Simon Harris as his nominee to Seanad Éireann. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Taoiseach Simon Harris has said he is happy for Senator John McGahon to seek the Fine Gael nomination to run in Louth despite a court ordering him to pay €39,000 arising from a violent incident outside a pub.

Mr McGahon was found not guilty in a criminal trail arising from the incident outside a pub in Dundalk in 2018, but Breen White, a farmer from Castleblaney, Co Monaghan, sued him in the High Court for assault and battery.

Mr McGahon denied the claims and said he was assaulted and acted in self defence. The jury in the High Court case found that Mr White had been assaulted and awarded a total of €60,000 including €10,000 for aggravated damages. Mr Justice Alexander Owens gave a decree for €39,000 against Mr McGahon.

“I’m happy for John to seek a nomination from the members of Louth Fine Gael,” Mr Harris said on Wednesday, but added that what happened was “unacceptable, is not acceptable to me”.

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He said he was nonetheless satisfied that Mr McGahon was remorseful and gave an undertaking that such an incident would not happen again.

He said Mr McGahon had been found not guilty of a criminal offence and that it had occurred before his time in the Oireachtas.

The Taoiseach characterised what occurred as a “scuffle” and emphasised that it was of key importance that he was found not guilty of criminal charges, describing it as “decisive”.

Asked why there were seemingly no political consequences for Mr McGahon, Mr Harris said the political consequence will be that the members of Louth Fine Gael and – if selected, voters in Louth – would decide on Mr McGahon’s candidacy with all the facts to hand.

“I also expect high standards here and I expect never to see a repeat of the incident,” he said.

He said Mr McGahon had been an “extraordinarily hard-working member of Seanad Éireann” and as a young politician had made a positive contribution to politics.

Mr Harris was speaking to mark the appointment of Nikki Bradley, a disability rights campaigner, to the Seanad in place of Regina Doherty, who has been elected to the European Parliament.

He said he was an admirer of Ms Bradley’s work and was happy to be in a position to recognise that work and give a platform to her.

Ms Bradley, a Donegal native, did not rule out running for the Dáil for Fine Gael in the future. She said the Seanad appointment was the “honour of her life” and she was “genuinely excited” to continue her work in the Seanad.

She said her appointment sent a message to those with disabilities that anything was possible – especially to younger people.

Mr Harris said Ms Bradley would have a major role to play nationally and noted that the Oireachtas delegation from Donegal is all male. He said that while matters for the general election were for another day, she would have his full support.

Mr Harris said he wanted to see the delivery of a new disability strategy and the opting into the optional protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, among other policy moves in the area of disability rights. He said it was important advocates with “real lived experience” such as Ms Bradley were given prominence.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times