A TOWN councillor who claimed expenses for a conference he did not attend said he only returned home because he didn't want to sleep in his car.
Pat Melia (51), a member of Macroom Town Council in Cork, pleaded guilty to obtaining cash by deception after what his solicitor called "an act of utter stupidity".
The father of two drove to Galway in April of last year to attend a conference on Ireland's future water policy. He had not booked ahead and because the Labour Party conference was being staged that same weekend, he could not get a hotel room.
A domestic issue arose on Friday evening and, not wanting to sleep in his car, he drove straight back to Cork, missing the three-day event.
He later told a meeting of the council that a lot of the issues discussed at the conference had gone over his head.
Mr Melia's solicitor, Sean Cahill, said his client lodged and was paid an expenses claim from the council for €552.26.
He was entitled to mileage and a portion of the subsistence but was not entitled to the overnights, which amounted to €218.
Mr Melia, of Ard na Greine, Macroom, Co Cork, pleaded guilty to a single charge under Section 6 of the Criminal Justice Theft and Fraud Offences Act that he caused a loss, by deception, to Macroom Town Council.
"It was a complete and utter act of stupidity," said Mr Cahill. "He accepted an opportunity which he should not have done."
Judge James McNulty heard that Mr Melia was one of 12 children and, through economic circumstances, had to leave school at 15. Years later he obtained his Leaving Cert and, after spells in the UK and US, he settled in Macroom in 2000.
He was elected to the town council in 2009 and married a Polish waitress, with whom he now has two young children.
His arrest and charge had a traumatic impact on him and he has since been treated for stress, anxiety and an inability to sleep.
Mr Cahill said that because of the conviction, Mr Melia's work opportunities may be limited in the future.
The judge warned that while the amount involved was minor, the implications of the offence itself were significant.
"He lowered himself in the esteem of his fellow citizens," he said, adding that the councillor had left himself open to "embarrassment and humiliation".
The court was told that the councillor had now repaid the €218 involved and was deeply remorseful for what happened.
Judge McNulty said it was not a case for a custodial sentence and he fined Mr Melia €500.
The councillor, who was a member of Fianna Fail but is now an Independent, declined to comment to the media as he left the court.