Local government

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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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Morning Ireland (2nd report) did a piece on the arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich for allegedly attempting to sell Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

The presenter, Cathal MacCoille (I think) expressed astonishment at Blagojevich’s sheer brass neck. The whole tone of MacCoille’s response seemed to be – How could Blagojevich think he could get away with such blatant corruption?

On Wednesday last, former Fianna Fail Councillor Michael Fahy was yet again found guilty of defrauding Galway County Council of €7,055.

Here’s a brief but truly astonishing outline of Fahy’s case.

2001/2002 – Fahy defrauded Galway County Council of €7,055. His crime didn’t come to immediate notice because the then county manager, Donal O’Donaghue, decided to deal with the matter behind closed doors. O’Donaghue has never been brought to account for his part in concealing the crime.

2004 – An FOI by the Irish Independent brought the matter out in the open and the Garda were informed.

2007 – Fahy was found guilty, sentenced to one year in jail and fined €75,000. The presiding judge described Fahy as

“An arrogant, greedy and determined fraudster”, who had “knowingly implicated” Thomas Byrne, “a totally innocent man”, leaving him open to “vilification and ruin” if the truth had not emerged.”

2007 (Sep) – Galway County Council held a meeting and decided, unanimously, to ignore the law. They all agreed to pretend that Fahy wasn’t in jail at all and further agreed to the fraudster’s request that his absence was due to “illness and his attendance in Dublin”. Fahy received his full representative pay of just over €16,600 despite spending seven months behind bars.

The law concerning Cllr. Fahy’s behaviour couldn’t be clearer.

2001 Local Government Act, Section 13.

(1) Subject to subsection (2), a person is disqualified from being elected or co-opted to, or from being a member of a local authority if he or she—

(i) fraudulent or dishonest dealings affecting a local authority.
(ii) corrupt practice.

2007 (Dec) – Fahy received a warm welcome from his fellow councillors when he attended his first meeting a week after his release from jail. At the meeting the fraudster delivered a strong speech deploring the rise in crime in recent times.

“It is just not good enough that people who are out at the shops or at Mass come home to find their houses ransacked. The people who do this sort of crime need to be caught and punished.”

His speech was greeted with enthusiastic applause. (Yes, yes, I know, but really, it’s all true)

2008 (Feb) – I’m not sure what happened next but it seems that a some point Fahy was acquitted of all charges and this prompted the DPP to re-enter the charges against the councillor.

Fianna Fail Senator Terry Leyden was very angry. This man is being persecuted for ‘doing his duty’, it’s a waste of public funds; this man has suffered enough, he should be left alone, thundered the Senator.

2008 (Dec) – Fahy was again found guilty of robbing €7,055 from Galway County Council. The presiding judge called on Fahy to ‘act with honour’ and resign adding that

“Fraud by a public representative attacks the very essence of our democracy and erodes public trust in our elected representatives,”

‘Attacks the very essence of our democracy’?

Fahy received widespread sympathy and support from local citizens and politicians and has only received minimal attention in the media.

Apart from this website and the judge, I know of no other person, organisation or official who has condemned Fahy’s behaviour.

Perhaps this is because the essence of Irish democracy has long since died.

Copy to:
Galway County Council

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Good news for the people of Cashel. An Bord Pleanála has rejected planning permission for a five storey, 83 bedroom hotel on land formerly owned by the Presentation Order of nuns.

The nuns had agreed, under pressure from the local council, to sell the land to the council on condition that it was to be turned into a park for the town. However, once the council got their hands on it they turned it over to a developer for a nice profit.

See here for previous posting

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It has long been accepted that there is a direct correlation between the number of students in a class and the quality of education that those students receive. For example, a class of ten students is more likely to achieve better results than a class of forty. The reason for this is obvious; students in small classes receive a more personal, direct and therefore better quality tutoring from their teachers.

It is because of this obvious fact that teachers, parents and associated organisations have been campaigning for decades to reduce class sizes in Ireland, which currently has the second highest teacher/pupil ratio in the EU. `They have largely failed in their efforts principally due to the consistent refusal by successive governments to provide the necessary funds.

Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin was on RTE (3rd item) last Friday mouthing the most recent excuse for not providing these critical funds.

“I think everybody recognises that there is a tighter budgetary situation this year and everything in our Programme for Government is in fact predicated on strong economic growth and it’s our major responsibility as a government to make sure that we keep the economy strong.”

Obviously, Ms. Hanafin believes that a pay increase of €38,000 for Bertie Ahern and €25,000 for her and her fellow ministers should not be considered within the ‘tighter budgetary situation’.

When she was finally pinned down on the matter she made the astonishing claim:

“There is no relationship at all, on any international study, to the quality of education and to the numbers in the class.”

If that’s the case, she was asked, why worry about class sizes at all? She replied as all Irish politicians do – with waffle.

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The Cashel planning scam was further analysed on Today with Pat Kenny last Wednesday (Previous posts here and here).

Philip Boucher Hayes, head of RTEs Investigative Unit, spoke to Cashel Town Clerk, Seamus Maher about the Council’s threat of using a Compulsory Purchase Order to force the nuns to sell their property cheaply.

Maher: Looking at it from the point of view of the need to acquire land for our various purposes it’s a method that could be used; it wasn’t used in this case

Hayes: But the threat of it was used

Maher: Well, it was mentioned, I suppose in that sense I wouldn’t call it a threat

Hayes: But the letter does say ‘If necessary the council will consider the acquisition of this portion of the property by way of Compulsory Purchase Order’, that’s a threat.

Maher: I suppose, if necessary, it’s a mild one, I mean nobody was putting their backs to the wall

Hayes: Is it a bit of a sharp practice, raising the prospect of CPO and acquiring land, holding on to it for a while, watch it inflate in price and then sell it off at a profit

Maher: I suppose when you’re in negotiation for something you will do your best for the town or the local authority or business or whatever you’re involved in and I wouldn’t have seen it as malpractice or underhand dealing or whatever I mean there’s more things going on really which are much more serious than that

In another development the Council has removed preservation orders on 16 very old trees on the property so that the developer can knock them down.

Belated congratulations to Philip Boucher Hayes, head of RTEs impressive Investigative Unit. Philip won the Best News Broadcaster of the Year last November.

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