WHEN respected auctioneer Ian Whyte took a call from artist Úna Campbell in 2005, he jumped at the chance to officiate at an auction which she was organising in aid of poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh’s ‘charitable’ work in Nepal.
Some of the biggest names in the Irish art and literary world were donating works to the auction, including John Banville, Rita Duffy and Seamus Heaney.
They were all friends or associates of Ó Searcaigh and had themselves eagerly agreed to help the 52-year-old poet out by providing something written, drawn or painted on an A4 piece of paper.
Banville, for example, wrote out a page of his Booker Prize-winning novel, The Sea.
This was long before the airing on RTÉ last year of Neasa Ní Chianáin’s explosive documentary, Fairytale Of Kathmandu, which led to Ó Searcaigh being accused of being a sex tourist.
In the documentary, he admitted on camera to having sexual relations with some of the very same Nepali teenagers whom his charitable appeal was supposed to be helping, and glaring discrepancies about the age of some of those teenagers have haunted the poet ever since.
In all, more than 80 pieces were donated to the 2005 Art Of Friendship event and, at the end of the auction in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, a giddy Ó Searcaigh announced that more than €50,000 had been raised.
Any sense of achievement Mr Whyte had about that auction was tainted last night with the realisation that an investigation into what happened to the money needs to take place.
This follows points attributed to Ó Searcaigh in his recent Hot Press interview – the latest attempt by the controversial poet to ingratiate himself with the public once more.
He had not been much in the public view since the documentary aired and associates say he is desperate to clear his name. The exercise is timely.
In just over a month, the programme is to be released on DVD with previously unseen footage of interviews with teenagers.
One scene includes an account of one boy’s first sexual encounter with Ó Searcaigh and it is somewhat different from the ‘masculine tenderness’ the poet spoke about in his Hot Press interview.
The interview was published just days after he pulled out of a scheduled appearance on The Late Late Show, after RTÉ lawyers insisted on pre-recording an interview with him rather than allowing him a live platform.
He says in the Hot Press interview that between November 2005 to January 2008, he sent €33,113 to Nepal to fund his charitable work there, and that he has ‘copious evidence’ to show how much he has sent.
That figure ‘includes’ only some money raised from the 2005 auction.
So what happened to the rest? Mr Whyte is concerned about something he was told more than three years ago – that the money raised at auction would go to a registered charity – one that would, at the time, appear on the annual list published by the Revenue Commissioners.
‘ I wouldn’t have agreed to get involved if anything less than 100pc of the money was going to the charity,’ he said. ‘If that didn’t happen, and there wasn’t a registered charity, then there needs to an investigation.
‘I can’t remember what the charity was actually called but I sought and received assurances that the money was going to a registered charity.
‘If there is any doubt about what happened to the money, there should be an investigation,’ he said.
Apart from anything else, he feels there could even be tax implications for him as a result.
With Ó Searcaigh and Miss Campbell both angrily refusing to answer questions about the auction last night, Mr Whyte’s confusion on the subject is understandable.
‘I haven’t seen the film and anything that has been said against him is allegation, as far as I can see,’ said the auctioneer.
‘I am not condemning him, nor am I defending him as the few times I have met the man I have found him to be both charming and passionate. I was very impressed with him.
‘ And I know anybody who supported Cathal would have done so have met the man I have found him to be both charming and passionate. I was very impressed with him.
‘And I know anybody who supported Cathal would have done so out of the goodness of their hearts.
‘As far as I was concerned all the money was going to charity, which is why I agreed to give my services for free. All I accepted in return was a meal and a hotel bed for the night because I had come up from Dublin.
‘When I heard all the big names involved, it gave me confidence about the project,’ he said. That confidence is now in question – as indeed are Ó Searcaigh’s activities in Nepal.
In Neasa Ní Chianáin’s documentary, Ó Searcaigh described how he enjoyed the company of, and sexual relations with, young Nepali men whom he also showered with gifts.
The film also featured complaints from a local child-support group and others helping the victims of sex tourism in the Nepalese capital.
Ó Searcaigh’s shocking admissions have generated huge public controversy and exposed divisions within the artistic community.
The controversy – which centres on the age of the teenagers he slept with – has also snared a Government minister and even the President.
As the Mail on Sunday revealed last year, Ó Searcaigh brought two of his young Nepali friends to dinner with Mary McAleese in Áras an Uachtaráin.
Prem Timalsina, for whom Ó Searcaigh managed to obtain a visa, and Sahantaram Sapkota were invited to dine with Mrs McAleese some years after she met the poet while she was improving her Irish in Glencolmcille, Co. Donegal, early in her presidency.
While gardaí say their investigation into Ó Searcaigh’s activities is ‘ ongoing’, the poet still faces being prosecuted for homosexuality in Nepal.
The Kathmandu-based charity, Voice Of Children, which is counselling two teenagers who claim he slept with them, is still working on a report about Ó Searcaigh.
If brought before the courts there, he could face prosecution for ‘ unnatural sex’, a criminal offence carrying a jail term of up to a year. Homosexuality is illegal in Nepal.
Lawyers advising the charity say a prosecution for homosexuality could succeed even if the current investigation by Nepali police into allegations that he had sex with underage boys or paid youths for sex fails to uncover sufficient evidence.
Ó Searcaigh has always insisted all the boys he slept with were consenting partners aged at least 16, the age of consent in Nepal. He denies ever indulging in ‘ anal intercourse’ or ever having paid for sex.
But age remains an issue with a number of the teenagers involved. It is still not known exactly what age his friend, Prem Timalsina was when Ó Searcaigh first brought him to Ireland, although he said on camera in Fairytale Of Kathmandu that he was ‘ 16 or 15′.
An Irish visa which then-education minister Mary Hanafin helped Ó Searcaigh secure for his friend in 1998 states that Prem was 19 at the time.
Last year, the MoS revealed that Miss Hanafin intervened with former foreign minister David Andrews to secure Prem’s visa after his first application was refused. The reasons for that refusal are unknown.
Miss Hanafin’s intervention followed a request from the poet – a personal friend of the minister since they both attended Maynooth College.
In the Hot Press interview, the poet insists that one of the teenagers who featured in the documentary was 18.
Yet, the same teenager – Narayan Panta – gave his age as 20 in a DVD that was released by Ó Searcaigh’s PR team days after Miss Ní Chianáin’s film was released.
Panta was one of a supposed 11 Nepali boys prepared to defend the Donegal poet. However, in addition to Panta’s age discrepancy, the DVD threw up another anomaly.
There are in fact only seven different Nepali youths in the DVD. The other ‘ four’ are actually the same person filmed wearing different clothes.
There is a marked contrast in what Panta says on this DVD and what he originally said about the poet in2006.
Then, the uniformed and baby-faced schoolboy had just turned 16. He featured in Fairytale Of Kathmandu with a bicycle Ó Searcaigh had bought him after having spent time in his room.
‘ I didn’t know about the old man,’ he says of their first meeting. ‘ I thought he is a good man. There is a kid who is Prem’s son. I saw him, he loved that kid so much.
‘ Seeing that, I thought he loves kids and& I thought he treated me as a kid as well and loved me [ sic]. I understand it in that way at start.’ According to this week’s Hot Press interview, Panta is now in a loving relationship with the poet.
Ó Searcaigh was in ebullient form at his cottage near Gortahork in Co. Donegal last night. He dismissed questions about the funds raised with the comment: ‘ All will be revealed.’
He refused to say how or when.
Miss Ní Chianáin is standing by the integrity of her documentary. She said: ‘ I gave Cathal the opportunity to address some of the more disturbing aspects and the fact that he still doesn’t want to do this, speaks volumes.’