A MACROOM town councillor has been fined €500 at the town's district court having pleaded guilty to claiming expenses for a conference he did not attend.
Cllr Pat Melia (51) of 19 Ard na Greine, Macroom admitted to the charge of making a gain by deception arising from a conference on the reform of Ireland's water system which was held in Galway last April.
Inspector Ger Lacey told the court that Cllr Melia had received permission from Macroom Town Council to attend the conference, that a place was held for him at the event in the Galway Bay Hotel, but that Cllr Melia signed in for the event on Friday, April 13 and returned to Macroom the same day.
Inspector Lacey said that while Cllr Melia was entitled to claim the mileage expenses for the journey, he was not entitled to his subsistence claim of €218 for two nights stay in Galway.
"He returned to the council, confirmed his attendance at the event and told the council that a lot of it 'went over his head'," Insp Lacey told the court, referring to a report in The Corkman last year.
Cllr Melia, who appeared in court dressed in a grey suit, pink shirt and purple tie, pleaded guilty to the charge and repaid the sum involved through his solicitor Sean Cahill.
Mr Cahill said his client co-operated fully with Gardai who investigated the matter 'meticulously'.
He said that his client travelled to Galway intending to attend the conference, but that there was no accommodation to be found in the city due to the Labour Party conference that was held there over the same weekend.
He explained that Cllr Melia intended to sleep in his car on the first night but that the poor weather conditions required him to drive home. A subsequent "domestic situation" prevented Cllr Melia from returning to Galway that weekend, he added.
Mr Cahill described his client's claim for a full weekend's subsistence as "a complete and utter act of stupidity."
Defence for Cllr Melia then furnished Judge James McNulty with character references from the parish priest of Macroom and the manager of the Briery Gap arts centre.
He also provided a medical certificate which outlined the "distress" the proceedings caused both Cllr Melia and his wife, who recently gave birth to a baby girl.
Judge McNulty dismissed a request for probation, and said that the public policy implications of the conviction ensured that the case was "not a thing of no consequence".
He spared Cllr Melia a custodial sentence on the basis of his cooperation with Gardai, his repayment of the money involved, his work locally in the public interest and because his two previous convictions were for road traffic offences and not crimes of a similar nature.
"He has lowered himself in the esteem of his fellow citizens in Macroom and further afield," Judge McNulty said, adding that the embarrassment and humiliation arising from the conviction would have consequences into the future in terms of employment "and otherwise".
Cllr Melia has three months to pay the €500 fine, with the threat of seven days in prison if he fails to do so.