Tuesday 20 February 2018

Queries over €200,000 payment to Stephenstown Pond project

QUERIES over the payment of €200,000 by Louth County Council to the Stephenstown Pond project were raised by Cllr. Tómas Sharkey at the monthly meeting of Louth County Council.

The Sinn Fein councillor wanted confirmation from the County Manager that the money paid in 2009 was for capital works and not for the clearing of a loan from the Louth County Enterprise Board.

He said that the issue raised a number of questions in regard to the allocation of money from the public purse to various projects and interests in the county.

He said he was 'not happy' with the response which stated that the money was paid to Stephenstown Pond to assist them in clearing outstanding debt on the project which would allow them to work on a business plan for the future. The money had originally been included in the capital programme for 2003/4 but at the time was subject to the completion of the building project. This work was completed in 2008/9 and before payment was made the county manger requested that an independent review of the operations of the project be done. As a result of the review a number of recommendations were made, including that a trust committee be set up with members of the community and a representative of the County Council.

Cllr. Sharkey said the funding raised a number of issues and he wanted assurances that it wasn't to clear a loan from the County Enterprise Board and for paying tax and PRSI.

His comments led to an assertion from Cllr. Declan Breatnach, who has been involved with the Stephenstown Pond project for many years, that the operations of the trust 'are fully above board'. The project had received funding on the basis that it was providing employment and attracting tourists.

He said anyone could look at the audited reports of the trust and that in order to get this type of funding they had to conform with the regulations for trusts and limited companies and were required to be tax compliant.

Cllr. Sharkey claimed that he'd had 'a number of deep conversations' with a member of the Stephenstown Pond Trust and he had it ' on good authority' that the accounts showed that €160,000 had been outstanding to the County Enterprise Board at the end of 2008 and that Louth County Council had agreed to give a grant for €200,000 to pay off the County Enterprise Board. He said the public would wonder why they gave €40,000 more than was needed.

County Manager Conn Murray told him that he was saying things that he was not aware of and if there was something which needed to be brought to his attention he should do so.

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