Irish minister set to survive scandal

AN IRISH government minister found by police with a homosexual man in his parked car in an area of a Dublin park frequented by male prostitutes yesterday seemed likely to retain his post.

Public anger focused on the conduct of the police officer who leaked details of the case involving Emmet Stagg, the junior environment minister, to the press when it was clear no crime was committed. Pat Cox, the deputy leader of the Progressive Democrats, called on police authorities to find out who was responsible.

Mr Stagg, a senior Labour left-winger, in a statement released late on Monday night admitted he was the politician who had been the subject of recent speculation in Irish newspapers. He accepted his conduct had been 'undoubtedly indiscreet' but not illegal.

Mr Stagg, who is married with two children and has represented Kildare in the Dail since 1987, said he had been sitting in his car alone in Phoenix Park one evening last November when he was approached by a man in his mid- twenties on a bicycle. They had first talked through the window, then the man had got into the car. A police car pulled up soon after and officers asked Mr Stagg his name and told him 'in no uncertain terms' about the nature of the area and advised him to leave it.

The minister said that 'although I became aware from our conversation that the man on the bicycle was gay, I was unaware - and still have no evidence to suggest - that he was male prostitute. I have never had any involvement with male prostitutes.' He said he deeply regretted the distress the incident had caused to his wife and family.

A brother of Frank Stagg, the IRA prisoner who died on hunger strike in Britain in 1976, Emmet Stagg was noted then for his strongly anti-IRA views. No final decision on Mr Stagg's future has been taken, but remarks from Albert Reynolds, the Taoiseach, suggested he would not be forced out. Mr Reynolds said it was 'a time for charity and restraint'.

That damage-limitation exercise indicated the scandal was seen as politically surmountable. Yesterday Labour colleagues and politicians from other parties rallied round, recognising Stagg's 'able, intelligent and gutsy' record in dealing with public housing.

Mr Stagg's future seemed secure last night when Dick Spring, the deputy prime minister and leader of the Labour Party, said that although the minister's behaviour had been 'unacceptable', he would be allowed to stay on in his job. 'Everyone was entitled to make a mistake,' he said. Mr Stagg's performance as a minister had been 'excellent'.

(Photograph omitted)

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