Sunday 25 February 2018

Inquiry into state grant for house sale demanded

Michael Brennan

Michael Brennan

COUNCILLORS have made another appeal to the political standards watchdog to investigate how a €250,000 state grant was approved to buy a county manager's house.

Longford County Manager Tim Caffrey did not attend the meeting to discuss how a voluntary housing body was granted taxpayers' funds to buy his house – before later pulling out of the deal.

Mr Caffrey increased the asking price of the house by €14,000 to €259,000 just days after the Muiriosa Foundation housing body had put in their grant request to buy it.

The house had been valued independently for the council at €250,000, but the Muiriosa Foundation's own valuation report put it at just €110,000.

After a heated debate in the Longford council chamber, councillors agreed to request an investigation by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO).

They had already tried to do so last month at a private meeting, but Environment Minister Phil Hogan said they had to hold an official council meeting.

Longford County Council said Mr Caffrey, whose salary is €123,000, was not available for interview. It is understood he took legal advice not to attend the council meeting.

At the meeting, councillors were given details of a report by the council's ethics registrar Enda Tiernan. He said that as a result of media reports about the proposed sale of Mr Caffrey's house, he had become aware of a possible contravention of the ethics rule in the 2001 local government act.

Longford County Mayor Larry Bannon said he wanted to refer the matter to SIPO. After this was proposed and seconded, he quickly declared the meeting over, leading to a heated row with shouts and insults flying between councillors.

Independent councillor Mae Sexton said she wanted to go to Mr Hogan for a broader inquiry as SIPO would not be able to deal with all the issues raised.

"This has to be addressed. It is in the public interest," she said.

The Department of the Environment approved a €250,000 grant to buy Mr Caffrey's house in Clondra, 8km outside Longford town, but the deal fell through last month after the Muiriosa Foundation said it was no longer suitable for two people with intellectual disabilities.

Mr Caffrey has said he immediately declared his ownership of the house when the foundation applied for the grant.

He has also insisted he had no "direct involvement" in the grant process.

Irish Independent

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