Council chief ‘regrets’ not declaring interest in house being bought for charity
A county council chief executive has accepted he failed to fully declare his interest in a house which was to be purchased through his local authority for a housing charity.
Longford County Council CEO Tim Caffrey is alleged to have breached ethics rules by not disclosing his ownership of the €250,000 property to the then Mayor of Longford, Larry Bannon.
A hearing into the allegations took place today at the Standards in Public Office Commission, chaired by retired High Court Judge Justice Daniel O'Keeffe.
Mr Caffrey claims his failure to inform Cllr Bannon was 'inadvertent and technical'.
He said it was “a matter of extreme embarrassment” for him.
The council chief executive insisted he told other senior executives 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.
The Department of the Environment received, and later approved, an application through the county council for the purchase of the house for just over €250,000.
However, this money was later given back to the department after the issue over Mr Caffrey’s ownership emerged.
The housing charity claims it was never told by Mr Caffrey that he was the owner.
In a statement to the inquiry today, 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.
He said he was “in full and complete acceptance of the error”.
“My mistake is my mistake and not that of anyone else,” he said.
“I respectfully ask the commission to find that this 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.
He also insisted he made those involved in processing the application fully aware of his interest in the house.
Mr Caffrey said the requirement to make a written disclosure to the mayor was not outlined in any circulars from the Department of Environment.
“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 said that after the issue arose, he contacted colleagues in his local authority and others around the country to see if they were aware of the requirement to make a disclosure to the mayor.
He said that all of these people had said they too were unaware of the requirement.
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 today and is to issue its findings at a later date.