Local government

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According to a report in yesterday’s Irish Independent Fine Gael Cllr. Pat Kennedy is surprised that I made a complaint against him regarding his ‘mistake’ in claiming expenses.

The report from Limerick City Council makes clear that it was forwarded to the Standards in Public Office for their information.

But, just in case, I rang SIPO to inquire whether they intended taking any further action.

Yes, I know, a waste of a phone call.

SIPO will be filing the report, probably under – The ones that got away.

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I finally received the Cllr. Kennedy report last Friday. Its contents were predictable.

Cllr. Kennedy outlined the matter pretty much as it appeared in media reports.

His principal point was that he had made an honest and genuine mistake which, when it was brought to his attention, he immediately refunded the payments.

Limerick City Council, after considering Cllr. Kennedy’s excuse, decided that he was telling the truth.

The Council summed up as follows:

The matter highlights the importance of ensuring that claim forms are properly and accurately completed before being submitted for payment.

Having regard to this and the requirement for openness and transparency in the public service, the undersigned have decided to refer a copy of this report to the Standards in Public Office Commission for their information.

It would, of course, have been astonishing if the outcome had been any different.

I considered submitting the complaint to SIPO but it’s an absolute certainty that the outcome would be the same – and Christmas is nearly upon us.

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Once again I rang Limerick City Council looking for the Cllr Kennedy report that they keep telling me is in the post.

I’m told I’ll have the report by Friday or early next week.

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I’m still waiting for that promised report from Limerick City Council regarding allegations that Fine Gael Cllr. cheated on his expenses.

In the meantime it seems that Cllr. Kennedy can’t stop paying back money to all and sundry.

A report in yesterday’s Irish Independent tells us the Cllr has refunded a further €2,600 to two national bodies from which he claimed mileage expenses.

This is in addition to the €1,700 he refunded 18 months ago for travel expenses that he wasn’t entitled to.

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I rang Limerick City Council again today to check on that report they promised to send me.

I spoke with a very nice lady who apologised because she thought the report had already been posted.

Said she would deal with the matter immediately.

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On 20th Oct last I received a letter from Limerick City Council informing me that Cllr. Kennedy (Fine Gael) had been requested to submit a report by 1st November to the Council regarding allegations that he cheated on his expenses.

This arose from my formal complaint regarding Cllr. Kennedy’s activities.

The Council assured me that they would contact me after reviewing Cllr. Kennedy’s report.

Having heard nothing since I rang the Council today and was informed that Cllr. Kennedy’s report was to hand and would be forwarded to me very shortly.

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Once again we see the political expenses system being abused without any serious reaction from so called regulatory authorities.

Fine Gael councillor Pat Kennedy claimed travel expenses for the use of his car to attend five conferences and seminars in February and March 2010 when, in fact, his car was off the road due to an accident (Irish Independent).

Cllr. Kennedy told Limerick City Council that the car he rented for the period in question was changed on a number of occasions by the rental company.

When challenged Cllr. Kennedy chose not to provide any other car details and repaid the money (€1,690.65) in April 2010.

Limerick city manager, Tom Mackey, accepted the payment from Cllr. Kennedy and took no further action.

I contacted the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) this morning with the intention of making a formal complaint but was informed that I must first make a complaint to the Ethics Registrar of Limerick City Council (Copy of complaint below).

This latest scandal raises a number of questions.

Did Limerick City Council officials check with the car rental company to verify Kennedy’s claim that his rented car was changed on a number of occasion?

Company records would immediately confirm or otherwise this claim or, indeed, if he rented a car at all.

Is there a requirement/duty on public officials like city managers to report matters of this kind (to anybody) or can they just nod and wink behind closed doors?

I wish to lodge a formal complaint under Part 15 of the Local Government Act, 2001 against Fine Gael Councillor Pat Kennedy.

The complaint concerns a report in the Irish Independent dated 4th October 2011 in which the following allegation is made against Councillor Kennedy.

That he claimed travel expenses for the use of his car during the period October 1, 2009 through to March 31, 2010 when his car was off the road due to a traffic accident.

Specifically, Councillor Kennedy claimed that his car was used to travel to five conferences and seminars in February and March 2010 when, in fact, his car was not available to him during this period.

Yours Sincerely
Anthony Sheridan

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I phoned the environment section of Cork City Council today to inquire what action had been taken against those who had illegally erected election posters all over the city prior to the election.

At the time I was informed that although the city’s litter wardens had not spotted any illegal posters they would keep a sharp look out for any breach of the law and appropriate action would follow.

No, I was informed today, not a single illegal poster was spotted by the ever watchful litter wardens.

Ah well, at least my amazing gift for predicting future events with 100% accuracy is still intact.

In my pre election call I informed the official that no action whatsoever would be taken as a result of the illegal posters and so it has come to pass.

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During the week (Mon and Wed) Drivetime carried out a survey on the amount of money local authorities spent on social and affordable housing at the height of the property boom.

Reporter, Fergal Keane, described some of the findings as frightening.

According to Keane the state (taxpayer) is the biggest loser as a result of this buying spree because all these properties are now worth considerably less than the original price.

Some of the properties were bought from controversial people like, for example, those who were involved in propping up the Anglo Irish share deal.

Dun Laoighaire Rathdown:

€88 million in a three year period the bulk of which was paid out in 2007 – the magic year for developers.

Fingal County Council:

€252 million in the last five years. The Council refused to say who bought the houses or how much was paid for individual units on the grounds that they need written permission from those involved. Most of the houses were bought in 2007.

Cork County Council:

2004 – €930,000 for 6 two bed roomed houses.

2005 – €7.7 million for 42 units.

2006 – €12.67 million for 64 units.

2007 – €60 million on 231 social houses. Most of these houses were massively above the market price.

Galway City Council:

2003 – 1 house for €157,000.

2004 – 6 houses for €1.1 million.

2005 – 4 houses for €743,000.

2006 – 26 apartments for €4.48 million.

2007 – €37.1 million for125 houses. Six times more houses than the previous year at nearly ten times the cost.

Dublin City Council:

2006 – Bought 85 houses.

2007 – Bought 416 houses. Five times more than the previous year. Over half a million was paid for some of these houses.

In 2007 Dublin City Council was the biggest property buyer on the market. In the last five years the Council spent a massive €428 million on social and affordable housing, the bulk of which was bought in the developers magic year of 2007.

The most curious response to this survey came from Fingal County Council when they refused to say who bought the houses or how much was paid for individual units on the grounds that they need written permission from those involved.

This excuse is ridiculous and I believe illegal. If it was a legitimate response then we could, for example, have the local drug baron doing deals with officials and nobody would have the right to ask any awkward questions unless the local druggie agreed to release the information.

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Intermittently, over the years, I’ve had problems with my house sewage system. Normally I would get out the rods and clear it myself or hire one of those drain cleaning companies.

Last year, however, the problem became more serious so I contacted Cork County Council, the relevant authority, and they cleared the system. Unfortunately, the system became blocked again last week so after failing to clear it myself I again called the council.

It usually takes about three days of phoning before contact is made with someone who actually deals with this particular problem. You know the sort of thing, passed on from office to office, promises of a call back that never happens and so on.

Today was different, today I experienced something very odd, something I’ve never experienced before in all my contacts with the civil service. Here’s the conversation.

Me: Hello, I rang yesterday about a sewage blockage, somebody was supposed to ring back but didn’t. Could you put me through to the relevant department please?

Civil Servant: I’m sorry but there’s nobody in that department today. Somebody died and they’re all at the funeral.

Me: Ok, could you ask them to ring me as soon as possible as I have sewage coming up in my garden? (This was an exaggeration but in a day or two it would be fact).

Civil Servant: Oh, that’s an emergency. I’ll give you the number of the NRA and they’ll call down today.

Me: The NRA? Do you mean the National Roads Authority?

Civil Servant: Yes.

Me: Long pause as I quickly checked the date, prodded myself with a biro to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and replied – But what possible connection could the National Roads Authority have with domestic sewage systems?

Civil Servant: Oh, they deal with this sort of problem when we have nobody else available.

I scribbled down the number but I won’t be ringing. It’s probably the phone number for the local dog pound or maybe the parish priest, I’m not falling for that old trick. No, I’ll wait a day or two until all those people return from the funeral and pretend it’s my first call.

Later on, while cooking dinner, I had a Father Ted moment – Did she say the National Roads Authority would be calling to clear my sewage?

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