Friday 20 September 2019

Standards body finds against two councillors

Frank Durcan. Picture: Mark Condren
Frank Durcan. Picture: Mark Condren
Fine Gael councillor Cyril Burke. Picture: Mark Condren
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Two county councillors have been found to have contravened standards of integrity and conduct in an investigation by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).

The findings were made against two Mayo county councillors, independent Frank Durcan and Fine Gael representative Cyril Burke.

The investigation involved allegations first revealed by the 'Sunday Independent' three years ago.

The case centred on conversations between the two politicians which led to Cllr Durcan withdrawing freedom of information requests relating to the appointment of a senior council official in the expectation of receiving favourable zoning for land he owned and wished to develop. The councillors had denied any wrongdoing.

In total, the commission found against Cllr Durcan in respect of two out of three alleged contraventions.

Sipo found against Cllr Burke in respect of two out of five alleged contraventions.

A Fine Gael spokesman said the party would consider the findings before deciding what action to take.

Both councillors expressed disappointment that findings had been made against them.

The Sipo reports have been referred to Mayo County Council, which said yesterday it would consider them.

Alleged contraventions by the council's chief executive, Peter Hynes, were also investigated by Sipo but no findings were made against him.

The commission found there was no direct evidence that Mr Hynes was involved in any agreement in relation to the withdrawal of the freedom of information requests.

In a statement, the council said Mr Hynes had been "totally vindicated".

The case, heard behind closed doors in October 2017 and February 2018, related to a 6.5-acre site owned by Cllr Durcan at Aghalusky in Castlebar and centred on meetings, conversations and text exchanges between Cllr Durcan and Cllr Burke in 2014.

In 2010, a pre-planning inquiry was submitted to the council for a nursing home and 20 residential units.

However, the council found this was premature due to the zoning objectives for the area, lack of public services and traffic safety concerns.

In August 2014, Cllr Durcan sent two freedom of information requests relating to the appointment of a senior council official. He withdrew the requests the following month, stating he no longer needed the information.

Agreement

That October he sent the same requests to the council again and the information was provided four weeks later.

Sipo said it was satisfied that as a result of a meeting between the two councillors in September 2014 there was an agreement between them that the freedom of information requests would be withdrawn in the expectation of favourable planning for the Aghalusky site.

It found both Cllr Burke and Cllr Durcan contravened Section 168 of the Local Government Act by failing to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest.

Irish Independent

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