Tuesday 26 September 2017

Council boss regrets breaching ethics regulations

Longford County Council CEO Tim Caffrey at a public hearing by the Standards in Public Office Commission
Longford County Council CEO Tim Caffrey at a public hearing by the Standards in Public Office Commission
The house Longford County Council CEO Tim Caffrey failed to disclose an interest in
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A County council chief executive has accepted he failed to fully declare his interest in a house which was to be bought by a housing charity with the aid of a Government grant.

Longford County Council CEO Tim Caffrey is alleged to have breached ethics rules by not disclosing his ownership of the property to the then Mayor of Longford, Larry Bannon.

A hearing into the allegations took place at the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO), chaired by retired High Court Justice Daniel O'Keeffe.

Mr Caffrey claimed his failure to inform Cllr Bannon was an "inadvertent and technical" breach of the Ethical Framework for the Local Government Service.

He said it was "a matter of extreme embarrassment" for him.

The council chief executive insisted he told other senior officials at the local authority of his interest in the house, at The Mill, Clondra, Co Longford.

But he maintains he was not aware he was also required to disclose his interest in writing to the mayor. The requirement is set out in Section 178 of the Local Government Act.

The four-bedroom house at the centre of the controversy was rented to the Muiriosa housing agency for people with intellectual disabilities.

Two years ago, the Department of the Environment received, and later approved, an application through the county council for a grant of more than €250,000 so the charity could buy the house.

However, the money was given back after the issue over Mr Caffrey's ownership emerged.

In a statement to the inquiry yesterday, Mr Caffrey said he accepted that he had not notified the mayor and sincerely regretted his failure to do so.

"This failure was entirely due to the fact I did not know of the notification requirement," he said. Mr Caffrey continued: "My mistake is my mistake and not that of anyone else."

He asked it to reach a finding that his mistake was "inadvertent and minor in nature".

Although Mr Caffrey disclosed his interest in the property to council staff and listed it on an ethics register, he was unaware of a requirement to also do so in writing to the mayor, he said.

He said that he organised for himself to be "distanced" from the decision-making process around the funding application.

Mr Caffrey also insisted he made those involved in processing the application fully aware of his interest in the house.

The requirement to make a written disclosure to the mayor was not outlined in any circulars from the Department of Environment, he said.

"I just did not think there was a further requirement. I accept that someone in my position should be aware of all the statutory requirements," he said.

Mr Caffrey, who has worked in local government for 40 years and has been county manager and chief executive of Longford County Council since 2006, is due to retire next spring.

The inquiry finished hearing evidence yesterday and is to issue its findings at a later date.

Under the Ethics in Public Office Act, SIPO must decide if Mr Caffrey's actions were intentional, negligent or malicious.

Irish Independent

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