Wednesday 22 November 2017

Thousands claimed as seminars in local area snubbed

Edel Kennedy and Fiach Kelly

NOT a single councillor in one county signed up for a high-profile summer school in their own area -- but claimed tens of thousands of euro in expenses to drive to similar seminars across the country.

No Roscommon councillors booked into the Douglas Hyde Summer School in their own county in the last two years, an Irish Independent investigation has found.

However, they were paid tens of thousands of euro in mileage and overnight expenses to take up to 164 places in other summers schools across the country. Other findings reveal:

  • Fianna Fail's Orla Leyden was the only councillor to book into the 'Local Culture & Heritage' conference in Castlerea in 2008.
  • Not a single councillor went to the 'Youth Suicide in a Changing Society' conference in Athlone in 2008.
  • None went to the Annual Craucha School in Tulsk last April.
  • John Kelly, an independent, was the only councillor to sign up for a local conference on the National Spatial Strategy last year.

Last night, Roscommon Cathaoirleach Tony Ward defended the councillors. He said he attended the Douglas Hyde Summer School last year as mayor -- but accepted that fees were not paid.


"To be 100pc honest with you I'm disappointed with that. I would have no problem paying the fee," he told the Irish Independent.

"Basically for (not paying in) 2008 and 2009 I have no excuse whatsoever. I'm not offering any excuse either."

Despite Mr Ward claiming that he encourages other councillors and locals to support events in their county, not one paid to attend the Douglas Hyde Summer School in July in either 2008 or 2009. However, five signed up for a Douglas Hyde conference in October 2009, while three were booked in 2008.

Just two booked in for the Frank McGann seminar in 2008. However, not all those who booked in attended. If they failed to attend the fee was usually forfeited.

"It's up to each councillor whether they're going to pay," he said, referring to each individual conference allowance.

"All I'm saying to you, those people, they're entitled to go and not sign, they're entitled to go and not pay the fee, they're entitled to go and claim for it."

Councillors get a tax-free conference allowance each year, the vast bulk of which goes on mileage and hotel claims.

Mr Ward, an independent councillor, said that although he didn't pay the fee he didn't claim any mileage expenses for going to the local summer school.

The documentation supplied by the council does not give a breakdown of his conference claim, merely giving a total of €2,635 for 2009 and €2,976 in 2008.

He argued he did not claim the full €600 mobile phone allowance last year despite having a high bill. The figures show he claimed €560.

Mr Ward claimed phone coverage was so bad in his home village of Curraghboy that if you rang him on his mobile "ninety-nine times out of 100 I'd have to ring you back on the landline".

Mr Ward said he abolished the mobile phone allowance in his December 2009 budget.

The most popular conference was the MacGill Summer School in Donegal in 2008, which 17 Roscommon councillors sign ed up for.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael's Dominic Connolly denied he attended three summer schools on overlapping dates last summer. Documents from the council show he was booked into the Richard Cantillon Summer School in Kerry from July 15-17 -- but he was also booked into the Percy French summer school in Roscommon from 15-21 July. His third was the MacGill school in Donegal from July 19 to 24.

Although he was booked for all three, he said he chose not to attend the one in his native county.

"The worse case scenario is that I owe the council €98 (booking fee)," he said.

Irish Independent

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