Council denies conflict of interest in purchase of employee's home
ANOTHER county council is at the centre of a housing controversy after it confirmed it was buying a house owned by one of its own employees.
Laois County Council is in the process of buying a house in Portlaoise – which is owned by its tourism officer Dominic Reddin – as social housing for people with disabilities.
Mr Reddin said that he had been offered €122,000 by the council, having advertised the house for sale at €129,500.
Both he and the council have insisted that there is no conflict of interest involved over the property at No 16 Lynden Court on the Ballyfin Road in Portlaoise.
The council submitted an independent valuation to the Department of the Environment putting the house's value at €130,000. It was awarded a grant of €123,830 from the department's social housing fund to buy the house.
But the department has confirmed it was only told by the council that the house was owned by one of its employees last week. This was on the same day as the Irish Independent contacted the council with questions about the matter.
The council is in the process of buying Mr Reddin's house in Portlaoise but has not yet signed a contract for sale. It said it could not confirm the final purchase price as a result.
It is also going to have to spend money on the house to make it suitable for use by people with disabilities.
It could not give a figure for this, saying the cost of the works required by the HSE would be subject to tender.
The issue of councils buying houses owned by their employees has been in the spotlight in recent months.
Councillors in Longford have sought an investigation into how a €250,000 state grant was approved to buy a house belonging to Longford County Manager Tim Caffrey.
And two employees of Louth County Council were suspended last month as an investigation takes place into the purchase of two houses owned by council employees.
In a statement to the Irish Independent, Mr Reddin said he had not approached the council himself about his house being for sale. He said he had advertised it for sale last July with John O' Brien Elite Estate Agents in Portlaoise.
"The (council) housing officials contacted John O'Brien," he said.
There are currently more than 114 houses advertised for sale in Portlaoise on the Myhome.ie property website, ranging from €65,000 to €620,000.
The council said it became aware of Mr Reddin's house during discussions with an estate agent. It also said that it had considered several properties in the town.
"The council considers that there has been no conflict of interest and this has been verified by an independent auditor," it said in a statement.
The council is also buying a house in Vicarstown and another in Stradbally for use as social housing. The decisions do not require approval by Laois county councillors because the purchase of housing is a matter for council management.
Mr Reddin has included the house in his council declaration of interests. He and Elizabeth Reddin are registered as the owners of the house since July 2002.
He confirmed that no additional works had been carried out on the house to make it suitable for use by disabled people.
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said it was currently reviewing the arrangements for councils purchasing houses under its social housing investment programme.