Fury over council’s ‘falsified claims’ for greenway projects

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PLANS STALLED  A cyclist on the Westport to Louisburgh road along where the Clew Bay Greenway was planned to be developed. Pic: Conor McKeown

Councillors angry after council forced to send back key funding

Michael Gallagher

News of the loss of funding for greenways in West Mayo first became apparent to local councillors at an online council workshop on Monday, December 6 last.
At the following day’s monthly meeting of the council, it dominated proceedings.
After Mayo County Council Chief Executive Kevin Kelly gave an update, councillors had their say.
“Essentially what happened was Mayo County Council drew down money for projects without having the work completed. The department found six of those projects had advanced and could move on to completion during the first six months of next year but with a 15 percent penalty in respect of the grant funding. There were four other projects, all of which related to the Clew Bay Greenway which the department considered had not sufficiently progressed or indeed progressed at all and have decommitted the funding for those projects,” said Mr Kelly.
He announced that €1.1 million would have to be returned for the four projects not underway along with a penalty of €160,000 for the six only partially completed.
This announcement caused consternation among the members and a lengthy and passionate debate followed. West Mayo councillors were particularly angered by the situation and Cllr Peter Flynn said he was a decade on Westport Town Council without ever having to question the professionalism, integrity or governance of officials, but that was not the case in Mayo County Council.
“Today is another example of what needs to be rooted out of Mayo County Council. This wasn’t a one-off. The reality is this was a number of falsified claims on ten projects which resulted in us claiming somewhere in the region of €2 million which we shouldn’t have. If this was a private organisation or sports club, there would be criminal proceedings in train.
“It has done huge reputational damage to Mayo and we’re at the bottom of the pile now,” he said.
Cllr Flynn said there needed to be full disclosure on the matter and proposed a motion to that effect. He asked that before the Christmas holidays Mayo County Council provide all information, documentation, memoranda, reports, letters and correspondence in respect of the audit, including any audit report.
This was seconded by a number of councilors and agreed unanimously.
Cllr Christy Hyland said the situation was a disgrace and a slap in the face to the people of Mayo.
“We were promised last January that this was the top priority for 2021 for Mayo County Council and here we are today with the project gone. The people that I represent want answers.
“Now I’m worried about a number of other projects Minister Ring granted funding for. In football parlance Michael Ring was the midfielder pumping ball after ball after ball into the full-forward line to Mayo County Council and they kicked wide after wide after wide.”
The debacle will also have a major impact on Achill where a proposed bridge at Springvale in Achill Sound is now in jeopardy as funding will have to be returned to central government. This news drew the ire of Cllr Paul McNamara.
“I have always had a serious problem with the way funding has been distributed but for Mayo County Council to have to give back €1.2 million and a fine of €160,000 is beyond ridiculous.
“Money for the Springvale Bridge in Achill was allocated two years ago and now it’s being sent back. That’s nothing short of scandalous. I have been pleading and asking for that bridge time and time and time again. On each occasion I was told it was gone to tender but that wasn’t the case and now the money is gone.”
Cllr Brendan Mulroy said it was an issue which had angered a lot of people.
It’s very hard for the people of Westport, Louisburgh, Lecanvey, Murrisk or Achill to have faith in Mayo County Council tonight. For years we have kept asking about these projects and we’ve been constantly told everything is on-stream, everything is going as it should be and we took them at their word.
“This is a source of great embarrassment. Where will we find the money to send back to the department? I’d like an answer on that and I’d also like to know where does that leave other projects in Westport where the money was allocated? When did this become obvious and when was it translated across to the members?”