Sunday 21 January 2018

Councillors claim €17,000 for mileage but don't even drive

MICHAEL BRENNAN

TWO councillors who have no driving licences have claimed more than €17,000 between them in mileage over the past four years.

Michael Dollard and Detty Cornally, who are both members of the Labour Party, retained their seats on Westmeath County Council in the recent local elections.

Both councillors admitted they have no driving licences and cannot drive, even though a Freedom of Information request revealed both have been claiming mileage to dozens of conferences in the past four years.

Both councillors said they had never taken a lift with another councillor to any of the conferences and had always been driven there and back by their family members -- Mr Dollard by his partner, and Ms Cornally by her son.

It comes as Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue is at the centre of controversy over his expense claims and use of the government jet while he was Arts, Sports and Tourism Minister in 2006. A spokesman for Mr O'Donoghue was unavailable for comment last night.

Accommodation

Mr Dollard, who cited a 1.4-litre Rover 45 saloon car and then a 2.2 litre Hyundai Santa Fe jeep on his claim forms, went to 28 conferences in 10 different counties over the past four years. He received €9,283 in mileage expenses and this figure rose to more than €21,000 when the cost of accommodation and food was included.

Mr Dollard said he had been driven there and back to all 28 conferences by his partner Trish, who owned the vehicles cited on his expense claim forms. He said there were two ways they dealt with conferences that lasted for up to a week.

"She would often stay down here and pay out of her own resources or often just leave me down there and come back and collect me and bring me back to Mullingar. It's entirely within the legislation. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that," he said.

Mr Dollard said he had attended the Listowel Writers' Week in Kerry three years in a row at an average cost of €1,000 on each occasion because he was the chair of the Westmeath Arts Forum. He confirmed he had not written any novels yet but said the areas of numeracy and literacy were very close to his heart.

"I would go to a lot of seminars that deal with the arts. That's why I go to the Listowel Writers' Week. It gives me an insight into what is going on in the area of arts in Ireland, particularly literature," he said.

Mr Dollard was also asked if his level of spending on conferences was justified.

"I think you could ask the electorate that. I actually got one of the highest votes in the country. I have topped the poll in every election I ran in since 1985 and people out there have full trust in Mick Dollard because I'm a grafter. I work hard," he said.

Ms Cornally, who cited a 1.5-litre Nissan Almera saloon car on her claim forms, went to 26 conferences over the past four years.

Ms Cornally said she paid her son Eoin, a part-time teacher, to drive her to all 26 conferences. She also confirmed that he owned the Nissan Almera car cited on her expense claims.

"I pay him the expenses. He can't do it for nothing. He's not a full-time teacher and he would be available to bring me," she said.

She said her son was prepared to drive her to conferences in counties such as Kerry, drive home to Westmeath and then drive down a week later to pick her up again.

"If need be, he would, it would be no problem," she said

It is the latest conference expenses controversy to hit the Labour Party.

Last June the party's Galway city-based councillor Billy Cameron claimed thousands of euro in mileage expenses despite having no driving licence.

He said the car he had cited on his claim forms was owned by his brother, who had driven him to conferences all over the country.

A Labour Party spokesman was asked for comment about the mileage claims by Mr Dollard and Ms Cornally.

"It would appear that both councillors have complied in full with the appropriate regulations in this matter," he said.

Westmeath County Council said it had been notified by Mr Dollard that his partner was driving him to conferences, and that Ms Cornally had indicated in some cases that she was being driven to conferences by her son.

Its head of finance Eddie Hynes said the council had approved the arrangements, but it would not tolerate councillors who claimed mileage while getting lifts from fellow councillors.

"If you don't travel, you don't get paid. Full stop," said Mr Hynes.

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