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Council report on funding loss criticised

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ANSWERS QUESTIONED A detailed report on why funding was lost for the greenway to Louisburgh has not satisfied some Mayo county councillors. Pic: Conor McKeown

Flynn questions redaction of names in local authority’s report


Anton McNulty

THE senior management of Mayo County Council has been accused of a concerted effort to continue to withhold information on how the council ended up losing €2.1 million in Greenway funding.
A report on the controversial loss of funding for Greenway projects in west Mayo was forwarded to councillors before Christmas by Kevin Kelly, the Chief Executive of Mayo County Council.
While the report, hundreds of pages long, details how funding was not spent on projects it was intended for, some councillors have accused the council of not providing the full picture.

‘Blurred’ data
The January monthly meeting of Mayo County Council was held yesterday (Monday). Addressing the gathering, Westport-based councillor Peter Flynn questioned whether the executive is continuing to withhold information from councillors. Cllr Flynn had sought information that was not contained in the original report from Mr Kelly.
“There was critical data missing off the report, and we followed up on it with an additional request, and we received some of that data, but the question is, why didn’t we receive it at the beginning?
“Why is all the financial data all blurred and why is a number of names of employees working on the project all redacted. There is no reason to redact that information unless you are trying to hide some information.
“In the last 12 to 18 months we had Deloitte doing an internal report, one of the top companies in the world, and they never stumbled on this information, which can give one to believe they were never told about it.
“We had internal auditor appointed last year and there was no reference to any of this stuff, even though it was clear to senior management there was huge issues within our capital projects.
“To me there has been a concerted effort not to allow this information to go out to the public. I have to say it is really disappointing,” he said.

‘Madness’
Cllr Flynn said that having studied the data in the report it highlights the ‘madness going through Mayo County Council over the last ten years’.
The report says that the audit was completed in the summer of 2020 and that Mayo County Council was informed of the findings in December 2020.
Cllr Flynn said that throughout 2021, senior management were aware of concerns for the Clew Bay Greenway project but continued to keep councillors in the dark until last month.
“There was a subsequent letter sent on February 1, 2021, by the Department [of Rural and Community Development] which effectively shelved the greenway project. Again I ask the question, why were we not informed as councillors that the project was scrapped?
“At every single municipal district meeting and every tourism SPC we asked about the greenway, and at no point did anyone tell us there was an issue,” he said.

Need answers
Fellow Fine Gael councillor Donna Sheridan also raised concerns about the report, saying she felt that more questions needed to be answered.
“I am not interested in who signed the claim forms, but I am interested in who authorised it,” she said. “I agree nobody should be scapegoated, but we have to understand why this happened and if it was a culture of what was happening.”
Cllr Sheridan added that she would ‘find it very difficult’ to understand how €2 million of unspent money would not have been obvious to senior managment at the Council’s weekly management meetings.

Lessons
Responding to Cllr Flynn’s assertion that information had been withheld, the current chief executive, Mr Kelly, said this was not the case. He said Mayo County Council’s focus was to ensure that what happened in the past does not happen again.
“There has been a genuine intention to provide the information to the members. There was a comprehensive report compiled before Christmas and on foot of a request, additional information was supplied. The approach has always been to provide comprehensive information to the members,” he said.
Following the compilation of the report, the Council is undertaking an ‘action plan’ to learn from what happened. A number of councillors said that the local authority should be given time to carry out this plan and ensure that its reputation is restored.
Fianna Fáil whip, Cllr Damien Ryan, backed the ‘current executive’ in this endeavor, saying: “I have every confidence in the current executive, and they have to be given the space to bring forward an action plan and to put the mechanisms in place,” he said.

Systems failure
Independent councillor Christy Hyland said he accepted that mistakes had been made, but he said he did not want to see any council official ‘thrown under the bus’.  
Director of Services, Joanne Grehan, who is responsible for the tourism sector of Mayo County Council, said that there had been a clear systems failure and an ‘unsustainable workload in what was expected to be delivered’.
She said that audits in Mayo County Council have increased as a result of the funding loss.
An update on the action plan will be provided at a special meeting of Mayo County Council at the end of February.