Council refuses to release key files on manager's house
A COUNCIL has refused to release key documents about the approval of a €250,000 state grant to buy its county manager's house.
Longford County Council manager Tim Caffrey is facing an investigation by the political standards watchdog into how a voluntary housing body was granted taxpayers' funds to buy his house last year-- before it later pulled out of the deal.
Mr Caffrey increased the asking price of the house by €14,000 to €259,000, just days after the Muiriosa Foundation housing body had put in its grant request to buy it.
Under the 2001 Local Government Act, Mr Caffrey was legally obliged to declare his ownership of the house once it became the subject of a grant application in a letter to the Longford County Council chairman, Cllr Larry Bannon.
This information then had to be sent on by Mr Bannon to the council's ethics registrar, Enda Tiernan, as soon as possible.
Mr Tiernan told councillors at a recent meeting that he had become aware of a possible contravention of part of the 2001 Local Government Act as a result of media reports about the proposed sale of Mr Caffrey's house,
But Longford Co Council has now declined a request under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking to find out if Mr Caffrey sent the letter declaring his ownership of the property, as is required under the 2001 Local Government Act.
The council also refused to release a copy of its independent valuation report, which said that Mr Caffrey's house, in the village of Clondra outside Longford town, was worth €250,000.
The Muiriosa Foundation's own valuation report valued it at just €110,000.
The council said it would be inappropriate to release any records, given that the matter was now under "external investigation" by the Standards in Public Office Commission.
"Dissemination of such information to a third party at a sensitive stage in the process would not be in the interests of natural justice for the subject of the investigation and could prejudice a fair and impartial outcome," it said.
Mr Caffrey has previously insisted that he immediately declared his interest in the house in Clondra "to all the relevant executives of the council" as soon as the Muiriosa Foundation applied for a state grant to buy it. He has also said he was not "directly involved" in the application for the state grant.
But he has declined to comment on whether he complied with the requirement in the act to send a letter to Cllr Bannon, informing him of his ownership of the house.
Cllr Bannon said he could not comment as the matter was before the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO).
A SIPO spokesman said it had already met to discuss the request from Longford Co Council for an investigation into the cancelled house deal.
"The matter is under consideration," he said.
However, it has emerged that the commission cannot begin any investigation until Environment Minister Phil Hogan fills vacancies on its board.