A JUDGE yesterday called on a controversial county councillor to do the honourable thing and resign his seat after being found guilty of fraud.
Judge Michael White was speaking at the sentencing of Councillor Michael 'Stroke' Fahy (57) after a jury had convicted him of a charge of obtaining the use or benefit of €7,055 from Galway County Council by false pretences.
At the end of a retrial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court, the jury of nine men and three women found Mr Fahy not guilty of four other charges of false accounting and attempting to make a personal gain or cause a loss to the council.
The judge sentenced Mr Fahy to 12 months imprisonment, with the final four months suspended, and fined him €30,000.
The judge took into account the fact that the Ardrahan councillor had served more than seven months in prison last year after he was convicted at his original trial of seven charges arising from the operation of a Community Involvement Scheme alongside his land in 2002 and 2003.
Mr Fahy had appealed that conviction. The Court of Criminal Appeal ruled last November that the conviction be set aside and ordered a retrial.
Passing sentence yesterday, the judge said he would deem the custodial portion of the sentence to be served and suspended the balance of the term.
The judge told Mr Fahy that the most aggravating factor was the serious breach of trust by him, an elected public representative, who had set out to defraud the very body to which he was elected.
"Fraud by a public servant attacks the very essence of our democracy and erodes public trust in our elected representatives," said the judge.
He added: "I don't think I have the power to disqualify you as a councillor. But I hope that you will act with honour and resign your seat as councillor, having been found guilty by a jury of your peers."
But speaking afterwards, Mr Fahy confirmed that he intended to appeal his conviction.
In a brief comment to the media, he also said that he wanted to thank the jury for acquitting him on four charges. He thanked his legal team and the professional manner in which Detective Garda Martin Glynn had dealt with him and his elderly mother throughout the investigation.
Mr Fahy's solicitor, Gearoid Geraghty, confirmed that his client would not be resigning his seat, pending his appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal.
Mr Geraghty said: "He is pretty drained by it [the trial]. It has taken its toll on him and on his health. But he won't be resigning his seat on Galway County Council until his appeal is heard."
During the six-day trial, the jury heard that a council investigation was launched in respect of an invoice received for work allegedly carried out under a Community Involvement Scheme (CIS) to widen the road alongside Mr Fahy's land at Caherduff Road, Ardrahan.
A sum of €7,055.15 was paid to a fencing company in 2002, but at the conclusion of the investigation, Mr Fahy was called to a meeting with the council's director of services, John Morgan, who told him that the invoice for €7,055 which had been paid by the council could not be related to any work under a CIS scheme.
Mr Fahy said he would pay the €7,055 to the council. At a subsequent meeting in the county manager's office, he apologised to council engineers for any embarrassment he had caused them. The money was paid by Mr Fahy into the council's account. In March 2004, the county manager imposed a penalty of a €3,000 contribution to charity, which Mr Fahy paid to the Ardrahan Lourdes Invalid Fund.
In addition, a sum of €14,500 was withdrawn from Mr Fahy's annual Notice of Motion funding for the following year. These monies can be allocated by councillors towards the cost of CIS schemes in their own areas.
The county manager referred the matter to gardai and it was filed away until a Freedom of Information request from the Irish Independent in May 2004. The file was not released and the gardai were called in.