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FUNDING CONTROVERSY The Mayo County Council offices in Castlebar. Pic: Google maps

Council nearly lost additional €1 million

Government audit reveals details of more false submissions

Edwin McGreal

Mayo County Council almost had to send over €2.1 million in capital funding back to the Department of Rural and Community Development for a failure to finish – and, in some cases, even begin – projects across the county.
In a story broken in last week’s Mayo News, it emerged that Mayo County Council must send back €1.2 million in funding for a number of coastal greenway projects that it said were completed, but in fact were not – they either had no clear timeline for conclusion or had not even been started.
Now it has emerged that Mayo County Council came close to losing a further €1 million in government funding that it received for greenways, paths and trails. And for similar reasons.
A letter from the Government Department to the Council, which has been seen by The Mayo News, reveals that money was drawn down for several other ‘completed’ projects. These include The Bowers Path in Ballinrobe, The Bangor Trail, the Bonniconlon Loop Walk and other sections of the Clew Bay Greenway. However, these projects are still under construction.
Luckily, those projects have been allowed to proceed – once the council pays a fine and completes them under strict conditions.

False declarations
In the letter to Mayo County Council’s Chief Executive Kevin Kelly, dated November 12 last, the Department addresses the Council about ‘concerns raised’ previously over funding allocated through the Department’s Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme (ORIS).
Projects reviewed by the Department’s internal audit unit found that ten separate ORIS projects saw over €2.1 million drawn down ‘based on signed declarations from Mayo County Council that the works had been completed but where works had either not commenced or had not been completed to any significant degree’.
The ten projects are two sections of the Clew Bay Greenway from Westport to Louisburgh; two sections of the Clew Bay Greenway in Achill; the Bowers Path in Ballinrobe; the Bangor Trail; the Slievemore Track in Achill; the Bonniconlon Loop Walk; and two improvements to the existing Great Western Greenway.
Mayo County Council’s drawing down of funds without the projects being complete left all these projects at risk of having their funding terminated. The full amount of €2,167,643 could have had to be returned. However, the Department said it would not go down that route for all ten projects.
However, the Council must repay €874,000 for different sections of the Westport to Louisburgh Greenway, €200,000 for the Greenway bridge at Springvale in Achill Sound and €9,058 for a link to the Great Western Greenway, as well as €8,585 for the Slievemore track.

Qualified approval
Mayo County Council is being given the opportunity to finish projects for which they have drawn down the additional €1.1 million in funding.
These projects include Great Western Greenway improvements (€200,000 drawn down from Department); Bowers Path in Ballinrobe (€200,000); Bangor Trail (€200,000); Achill Greenway (€96,000); a section of the Westport to Louisburgh Greenway (€360,000); and the Bonniconlon Loop Walk (€20,000).
“It is open to the Department to terminate the funding agreements in place and to seek the repayment of funding provided in the amount of €2,167,643 […]
“The Department is, however, acutely aware of the potential impact which the repayment of these funds will have on the completion of these projects and the knock-on impact this would have on the communities in which the relevant projects are located,” stated the Department.
“The Department also acknowledges that works on some of these projects is now advancing and there appears to be a clear timeframe for their completion,” they continued.
The Department informed the Council that it will ‘defer the termination’ of funding based on ‘indications’ from the Council that there is a ‘clear, defined and reasonable timeframe for completion’.
The projects incorporate a total of €1.056 million in Department funding.
There are rigorous terms though. These include, firstly, that Mayo County Council must commit to cover any additional costs arising in the full completion of the projects, over and above the approved amounts in the funding agreement.
Secondly, in light of the ‘serious nature of the findings’, a recoupment sanction of 15 percent will also apply in respect of the approved funding amount for each project, which amounts to €161,000.
Thirdly, in the event that Mayo County Council does not deliver a project within the agreed timeframe, the recoupment sanction will be increased to 40 percent.
Finally, in the event of a project not being completed in full within six months of the agreed timeframe, all funding in respect of the project must be repaid to the Department.

Clew Bay Greenway
Speaking in relation to projects on the Clew Bay Greenway, namely a bridge at Springvale in Achill Sound and sections from Murrisk to Bertra and Berta to Lecanvey, the Department has ruled differently. This, it says, is because ‘it is clear from the engagement with Mayo County Council that there is no clear timeline for the commencement or completion of these projects and/or the timeframe for completion is very lengthy and/or the nature of the project has changed’.
The Department informed the Council that it is seeking the return of funding of €1,091,643 ‘already drawn down in contravention of the funding agreement in place’.
The Department said that the termination of the funding agreements for these projects does not preclude ‘the future submission of these or related project proposals for consideration’.
The Department has also told the council that it will ‘continue to undertake additional inspections on projects funded in Mayo’; continue to undertake pre-payment inspections on ORIS payment claims for at least a further 12-month period ‘and review the position thereafter’; and ‘share the findings in respect of these projects with the Local Government Audit Service and Local Authority National Oversight and Audit Committee’.