Tuesday 26 September 2017

Councillor faces probe into double expenses claims for conferences

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

THE State's standards watchdog is to investigate a Fine Gael politician who claimed expenses for attending two different local government conferences which took place at the same time.

A hearing into the conduct of Donegal county councillor Terence Slowey has been scheduled for later this month, the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) announced last night.

Mr Slowey is facing questions after claiming expenses for attending two conferences in Cork and Kerry on the same weekend in October 2008.

He submitted claims for attending events which took place 100km apart in Killarney and Clonakilty.

He later repaid over €1,100 -- the cost of attending the Clonakilty event -- when a query was raised over the expenses claim.

A round trip between Mr Slowey's home in Ardara, west Donegal, and Killarney is 878km; while the same journey to Clonakilty and back is 964km.

Mr Slowey declined to comment when contacted by the Irish Independent last night. He previously said he regretted his actions and described the double claim as "a mistake".

Power

In a statement, SIPO said it was investigating Mr Slowey for allegedly contravening the Ethics Acts and the Local Government Act.

The body has the power to refer matters to the Director of Public Prosecutions if it deems infractions sufficiently serious.

Mr Slowey's attendance was recorded at the Third Sector Forum Finance conference in Killarney from October 16-18 as a representative of Donegal County Council.

He subsequently received €1,270 in expenses from Donegal County Council for attending the conference. This included €713 for travel costs, €322 in subsistence allowances and €235 to cover the conference fee.

Mr Slowey was also recorded as having attended the Association of Irish Regions conference in Clonakilty on October 17 as a representative of the Border Regional Authority.

The authority subsequently paid him expenses of €1,133 in respect of travel and subsistence for the conference.

However, Mr Slowey returned this money in January last year after receiving an email from the authority.

"I realised I made a mistake," he said at the time.

"I mean all you can do when you make a mistake is to try and rectify the mistake. And, as soon as I found out, I did that."

Complaints

However, SIPO began examining the issue in June last year after official complaints were made by former Donegal county manager Michael McLoone and former county mayor Brendan Byrne, a Fianna Fail councillor.

A statement issued last night said SIPO will hold a public hearing on March 14.

When contacted by the Irish Independent, Mr Slowey said: "I have no comment to make at this time."

A spokesman for Fine Gael said: "We will await the hearing and will study the outcome. We won't be making any further comment until it is conducted."

SIPO previously investigated Kerry-based Fianna Fail town councillor, Patrick O'Donoghue, in 2007 and referred its findings to the DPP.

Mr O'Donoghue would later become the first politician in the country to be sentenced in a criminal court under new ethics laws.

He was fined €5,000 after pleading guilty to trying to influence a planning decision relating to the rezoning of lands surrounding his family's multimillion-euro hotel business in Killarney, Co Kerry.

Irish Independent

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