A COUNTY manager has cancelled an official trip to Canada to deal with the controversy about how €250,000 of taxpayers' money was made available to buy his house.
It came as new information shows that the house owned by Longford County Council manager Tim Caffrey had been valued at less than half the price put on it by his own council's independent valuation report.
The political standards watchdog has now been asked to investigate the collapsed deal.
The house was valued at €250,000 by a firm hired by Longford County Council, and the Department of Environment approved a grant for this amount to buy it for people with intellectual disabilities in Clondra, a village on the River Shannon 8km outside Longford town.
But it had been valued at just €110,000-€115,000 by the firm acting for the voluntary housing body involved in the deal. It also emerged that the house is located in a former ghost estate which had been exempted from the household charge but not from the property tax.
But he decided to stay in Longford after councillors asked the political standards watchdog to investigate the collapsed deal to buy his house for €250,000.
The deal fell through after the voluntary housing body getting the grant said it was no longer suitable due to a change in the man's family circumstances.
It has now emerged that the council had valued Mr Caffrey's house at a higher price than the voluntary housing body, the Muiriosa Foundation.
The Department of Environment confirmed it had received an independent report from Longford County Council valuing the house at €250,000. However, the Muiriosa Foundation said it had got its own independent valuation, which put Mr Caffrey's house at €110,000-€115,000.
Its chief executive, Brian Broderick, said this was the amount it would have been bidding if the deal had not collapsed.
He also insisted that it had identified the house to accommodate people with intellectual disabilities after being told about it by council officials. He said it had come up "informally" when they were asking if there was a suitable property to rent close to Longford town which would cater for their client's interest in water sports.
However, the council has insisted it had "no role" in the selection of the house. In a statement, Mr Caffrey said he had immediately declared his ownership of the house when the Muiriosa Foundation actually applied for a grant to purchase the house.
"I am satisfied, and advised that the process was at all times totally transparent and complied not only with the letter of the relevant regulations, but also with the spirit of those regulations," he said.
Mr Caffrey gave similar assurances to councillors at a council meeting in Longford on Monday. He told them that he was used to dealing with council affairs but was now dealing with his personal affairs. "He was upset. He said that he had done nothing wrong," said one councillor.
But councillors have now decided to contact the Standards in Public Office Commission to ask them to investigate the matter.
Under the 2001 Local Government Act, they can investigate if an elected local authority official has broken the code of conduct.
A spokesman said it could not comment on individual cases. Councillors – who were not informed in advance about the house sale plan – have also decided to refer the matter on to the local government auditor.
Fine Gael councillor Michael Carrigy said the elected members believed that this was the best course of action. "We want transparency on the issue. That is our job as public representatives," he said.
Longford County Council declined to respond to questions about whether it was standing over the report which put a value of €250,000 on Mr Caffrey's house.
It has said that the valuation report was carried out by a Cavan-based auctioneer rather than a Longford-auctioneer to avoid a "conflict of interest".