Sunday 25 August 2019

Council boss was negligent in not disclosing property interest, watchdog finds

Longford County Council CEO Tim Caffrey at a public hearing by the Standards in Public Office Commission
Longford County Council CEO Tim Caffrey at a public hearing by the Standards in Public Office Commission
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A county council chief executive has been found to have breached ethics legislation after failing to fully declare his interest in a house which was to be purchased through his local authority for a housing charity.

The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) today found Longford County Council CEO Tim Caffrey had not acted in good faith and had been negligent.

It also found the contravention, which arose after Mr Caffrey failed to disclose his interest in the property in writing to the county mayor, was “a serious matter”.

The findings will now be referred to councillors in Longford to consider whether action should be taken against Mr Caffrey.

In a statement, Mr Caffrey said he was “very disappointed with the findings” and was considering seeking a judicial review.

At a hearing on the issue in September, Mr Caffrey insisted he told other senior executives at the local authority of his interest in the house, at The Mill, Clondra, Co Longford.

But he maintains he was not aware he was also required to disclose his interest in writing to the mayor.

The requirement is set out in Section 178 of the Local Government Act and failure to comply with it is a contravention of the Ethical Framework for the Local Government Service.

In its ruling, SIPO said a lack of knowledge of the provisions of the Act was no excuse.

It said there was a fundamental duty on all public officials to fully inform themselves of all relevant statutory duties.

“Mr Caffrey was negligent to a high degree in not doing so and given the importance of the provision and the degree of negligence, the commission finds that the contravention by Mr Caffrey was a serious matter,” the SIPO ruling said.

At the hearing in September, Mr Caffrey claims his failure to inform the county mayor was “inadvertent and technical”.

He said it was “a matter of extreme embarrassment” for him.

The four bedroom house at the centre of the controversy was rented to the Muiriosa housing agency for people with intellectual disabilities.

The Department of the Environment received, and later approved, an application through the county council for a grant of over €250,000 so the charity could purchase the house.

However, this money was later given back to the department after the issue over Mr Caffrey’s ownership emerged.

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