Sunday 25 September 2016

Mystery of the TD, the festival, and unpaid bills to local bands

FG deputy Ray Butler denies there was anything inappropriate about invoices he submitted

Published 19/04/2015 | 02:30

FESTIVAL INVOICES: Meath West TD Ray Butler is chairman of Trim St Patrick’s Day Festival committee
FESTIVAL INVOICES: Meath West TD Ray Butler is chairman of Trim St Patrick’s Day Festival committee

A government TD submitted invoices to receive taxpayer funding for a St Patrick’s Day festival he organised that wrongly stated that money had been "paid with thanks" to local musicians who were never paid for their performances.

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Fine Gael Meath West TD Ray Butler submitted the invoices totalling €1,000 to Meath County Council on behalf of the festival committee in order to receive a community grant for the Trim St Patrick’s Day festival.

The invoices for performances by two local bands, which were obtained by the Sunday Independent under the Freedom of Information Act, feature handwritten statements that the money had been “paid with thanks”.

However, the two groups have insisted they were never paid — and one of the bands said they never even expected to be paid for their performance at Trim Castle in 2013.

Mr Butler last week denied there was anything inappropriate about the invoices he submitted.

After he was contacted by the Sunday Independent, he agreed to pay the money to the bands but insisted the invoices were marked paid due to a “clerical error”.

“If they weren’t paid, they weren’t paid. We can’t be running around after everybody so if they are due funding, we’ll pay them, it’s no problem,” he said.

Mr Butler also agreed to pay €600 to a sound engineer, who provided the PA system for the concert, but insisted he had already paid someone else for this service.

In June 2013, Mr Butler, on behalf of the festival committee, submitted receipts totalling €8,048.52 to Meath County Council to avail of a community grant through the local authority’s ‘Gathering Fund’.

The invoices were sent with a signed cover letter from Mr Butler. Under the fund’s rules, the council authority provided local groups with 50pc of the cost of running their events — meaning Mr Butler’s St Patrick’s Day festival committee received €4,000 in taxpayer funding. Meath County Council confirmed it paid the money to Trim Celtic Festival on March 19 2013.

The deputy, who hit the headlines recently when a protester claimed he hit her with his car outside his constituency office, is chairman of the Trim St Patrick’s Day Festival committee and has been involved in the event for almost 20 years.

The 2013 St Patrick’s Day Festival included a free concert in Trim Castle where a number of local bands performed. One of the bands, Stormy Monday, said they were told they would be paid for the concert but despite pursuing Mr Butler over several months, never got paid.

Alan Feekery, who was a bass guitarist with the band, said he spoke with the deputy about payment in January last year.

However, Stormy Monday’s invoice for €500 dated May 20, 2013 was submitted to Meath County Council by Mr Butler on behalf of the festival committee. The invoice included a handwritten note stating “paid with thanks”.

Mr Feekery said that the invoice submitted to the council is not the invoice on Stormy Monday-headed paper the band sent to Mr Butler.

Shane Murphy from The Four Day Weekend said he spoke to Mr Butler before the concert, but insisted at no stage did they discuss payment and the band presumed they were performing for free.

Mr Murphy told the Sunday Independent: “We weren’t expecting to get paid, we were just delighted to get a bit of airplay and get on stage but if there’s a receipt there saying we did get paid I don’t know what’s going on.”

Again, an invoice for €500 was submitted to Meath County Council on behalf of the band. An invoice, dated March 16 2013, was also signed “paid”, even though the band said they never submitted an invoice to Mr Butler in the first place.

The headline act was the Furry Gilberts, and band member Declan Smyth said they were paid for their performance after pursuing Mr Butler for a number of months. “I called to his office a number of times looking for the money and we eventually got it,” Mr Smyth said.

The Furry Gilberts’ invoice included a payment of €600 for a PA system. Mr Smyth said this was due to be paid to freelance engineer Ross Martin, who says he never received any payment.

Mr Butler last week insisted he had already paid someone else for the sound system, but said he would pay Mr Martin €600 as he didn’t want to see him “out of pocket”.

The deputy admitted the invoices should not have been signed ‘paid’ but said it was not his handwriting.

“These are people who were to have been paid cash basically and we put in receipts and invoices,” Mr Butler said. “At the end of the day, we appreciate the funding and all that but we are not inflating anything and people are getting paid. The majority of them get cash on the day. We are not inflating anything.

“We run a festival or a parade on the guts of €4,000 and a couple of other thousands where other festivals spent hundreds of thousands,” he added.

Meath County Council said new procedures are currently being developed to ensure that there is a consistent approach to how funding is granted.

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