WHERE TO NOW? Part of the Clew Bay Greenway between Bertra and Murrisk under construction in 2018. However news that funding has been pulled for the project means it is facing an uncertain future.
Councillors angry after Council forced to send back more than €1.2 million
There is consternation in Mayo political circles this week as Mayo County Council prepares to send back more than €1.2 million of funds which had been drawn down for delivery of the Clew Bay Greenway.
The story – first broken in this week’s Mayo News (print edition, December 7) – came to light on Monday evening when councillors were informed by council officials that discrepancies had been found following a government audit.
On Tuesday afternoon Mr Kevin Kelly, CEO of Mayo County Council, addressed a meeting of the county council in Castlebar and admitted the funding had been drawn down inappropriately and said there were absolutely no excuses for this.
In a fulsome address, Mr Kelly outlined how over recent years funding for 46 projects under the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme (ORIS) has been drawn down. These projects primarily related to Greenways.
This ORIS funding should only have been accessed when projects were completed, he said, but an audit carried out over the past few months had found this was not the case in a large number of projects under the auspices of Mayo County Council.
“During the summer the Department audited one or two of the schemes and ultimately audited all of the schemes and found not all of the projects had progressed as expected.
“They found 28 projects had been completed or substantially completed, but there were a number that hadn’t advanced as much. The issue came down to ten projects which the department concluded fell short of the guidelines in terms of the drawdown of funding.
“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,” the recently-appointed CEO stated.
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 will not now go ahead 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 [sic] 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.”
MORE See next Tuesday’s Mayo News for more on this story.