A COUNTY manager has insisted he has done nothing wrong after it emerged that €250,000 of taxpayers' money was made available to buy his house.
However, Longford County Manager Tim Caffrey has insisted that he had no conflict of interest because he had declared his ownership of the house.
He has also said that his council had no role in selecting the property, and that he himself was not ''directly involved'' in the application for the state grant.
Mr Caffrey has confirmed that he had been living in the four-bedroom house in Clondra, which is a village around 8km from Longford town, until he rented it out to a voluntary housing body earlier this year.
The Muiriosa Foundation then paid Mr Caffrey €400 a month to rent the house for a person with an intellectual disability.
It then worked with Longford Co Council to get a €250,000 state grant to buy the house in Clondra. But it has pulled out of the plan to buy the property and is moving the person to another house in Longford this week.
In a clash of accounts, the Muiriosa Foundation said it believed it had originally been told about the house by council officials – but the council is insisting that it had "no role" in selecting the property.
The Department of the Environment, which gave approval for the grant to buy the house, said that it was never told that Mr Caffrey was the owner of the house.
Mr Hogan and Junior Minister for Housing Jan O'Sullivan have both expressed concern about the revelation. They are going to seek a report from the council about the issue.
They have promised to review the €58m-per-year grants scheme used to provide housing for people with intellectual disabilities to come up with new guidelines.
A letter from the Department of the Environment to Longford Co Council – dated July 30 last – clearly gives approval for the purchase of the house by the Muiriosa Foundation for people with intellectual disability at an estimated cost of €250,638.
The house had been advertised for sale on the internet last July for just €159,000 – not €259,000. But auctioneer Sean Dalton said this had been an online mistake by his office.
"It was a clerical error. It was changed the same day (to €259,000)," he said.
Councillors in Longford have expressed fury at being kept in the dark about the collapsed housing deal – and demanded answers from Mr Caffrey at a specially called meeting yesterday.
Independent councillor Mae Sexton said that an investigation was needed into how grant funding of €250,000 had been approved to buy the county manager's house.
"You have to ask if this was value for money and why did they pick that house out of all the houses for sale in Longford?" she said.
The council hired a Cavan-based auctioneer selected to value the house rather than a local Longford-based auctioneer. It said this was to avoid any "conflict of interest".
Documents from the Land Registry show that Mr Caffrey bought the house in August 2008 with a mortgage from Bank of Ireland. The council said he had lived in the house until he started to rent it to a Kildare-based voluntary housing body earlier this year.
The Muiriosa Foundation provides around 60 residential houses for people with disabilities in the Midlands. But this was the first time it had attempted to do so in Longford.
Its chief executive Brendan Broderick said they wanted a house for a Longford man with intellectual disabilities, where he could pursue his interest in water sports.
"As I understand it, our people did ask the officials whether they were aware of any property that might be suitable and indicated the kind of property we had in mind. I think that's how they ended up there," he said.
He said that his foundation had never been informed by Mr Caffrey that he was the owner of the house but found out locally before it applied for the funding to purchase the house.
However, he said the decision to pull out of the deal was nothing to do with the revelation that Mr Caffrey was the owner.
"We withdrew our application because the family circumstances changed," he said.
Mr Broderick said that his foundation had never made an offer to Mr Caffrey to buy the house – and that it would be wrong to presume it would be €250,000 because its own valuation had put it at less than this figure.
In a statement, Longford County Council said that Mr Caffrey had declared his interest in the house, so officials were aware he was the owner. However, it said Mr Caffrey was not directly involved in the application process for the grant to buy his own house. And despite the Muiriosa Foundation saying it had been told about the property by council officials, it insisted it had no role in the selection of the property.
The council confirmed that councillors had never been given the details of the plan to purchase the county manger's house using the department's Capital Assistance Scheme.
"The processing of the Capital Assistance Scheme is not a reserved function which would be required to come before the elected members," it said.
Mr Caffrey has recently been linked publicly with the vacant county manager's job in his native Sligo, where he previously worked as director of services.
By Michael Brennan