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Flynn tells council official she ‘failed in her job’

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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road along where the Clew Bay Greenway was planned to be developed, before funding given to Mayo County Council was withdrawn by central Government. Pic: Conor McKeown

Mulroy says he considered resigning over greenway funding debacle

Anton McNulty

A WESTPORT councillor has launched a scathing attack on a senior council official, saying she has failed in her role in the delivery of tourism projects in the county.
The executive of Mayo County Council came under national scrutiny last Thursday when an RTÉ Investigates programme highlighted how the council had to return close to €2 million in funding for projects along the Clew Bay Greenway.
At yesterday’s monthly meeting of the Westport/Belmullet Municipal District, Westport-based councillors lashed out at the council executive, accusing them of being untrustworthy  for not informing them that funding for projects had been lost.
Fine Gael councillor Peter Flynn told the meeting that incredible damage has been done to the county by the adverse publicity, and he asked why nobody in the executive has apologised.
When the Director of Services, Catherine McConnell, who was responsible for tourism development from 2017 to 2019, said that the funding return was due to a ‘systems failure’, Cllr Flynn turned on her saying she had failed in her role within the council.
“You were responsible for tourism and you were responsible for the best interest of this district, and in my view you failed. I take no pleasure in saying it, but I will not say it behind your back, I will say it straight to you.
“In fairness you failed really badly and the least you could do is give an apology and recognition that you were part of the failure within this organisation in that period,” he said.

‘Too big’
Cllr Flynn had earlier told the meeting that he could not believe that Ms McConnell was unaware of the funding applications for the projects, and the funds which eventually had to be returned to the Department of Community and Rural Development.
“We are talking the guts of €2 million, and I cannot believe that the senior management team were not aware of these applications going through the system. They are just too big not to know,” he said.
Cathaoirleach of the Westport/Belmullet Municipal District Cllr Brendan Mulroy said he had considered resigning from his position over the weekend because of the lack of trust between councillors and management.
“I did genuinely reflect on my position over the weekend because every second person I was talking to over the weekend was talking about it. The right way forward is to get answers and work from the inside out rather than walk away from this mess, and that is what I intend to do so,” he said.

‘Completely misled’
The Department of Community and Rural Development informed Mayo County Council in December 2020 that it intended to take back funding for projects that had never been completed. The projects affected included the Betra to Lecanvey Greenway and a footbridge along the Greenway at Springvale in Achill.
The common complaint among councillors was that when they asked for updates on the projects they were never informed of any problems and they were led to believe everything was fine.
“One by one we stood up and told the community of Louisburgh that we will support them and deliver their greenway,” said Cllr Mulroy. “We actually believed what we were saying because we were told it was going ahead. We were completely misled, and there is no two ways around it. The community of Louisburgh deserves an apology for being misled by this council. The money wasn’t there to deliver the project, and that is a sad indictment of this chamber,” Cllr Mulroy said.

Eroded trust
Cllr Flynn added that the failure of the council to inform councillors of the funding problem has eroded trust among them.
“I have always believed having an open and trusting relationship with the executive and to me that has been seriously eroded and that is not acceptable. We could have had a conversation in committee room and told there was problems in 2020. We would have been angry but we could have dealt with them, but we wouldn’t have been meeting landowners and talking other things at meetings and pretended everything was fine when things were anything but fine.
“I can only apologise on my behalf, but I don’t hear anyone in the executive making an apology in the way they misled the MD [municipal district] team and the councillors and the people of Mayo,” he said.

External investigation
Earlier this month a special meeting of Mayo County Council took place where councillors discussed the loss of funding and Erris-based councillor Gerry Coyle asked why the matter was once again being raised.
He said it had been agreed to let the audit committee of Mayo County Council investigate the matter and they will report on it.
However, Cllr Flynn said he has no trust in the audit committee and feels an external investigation is needed to ‘get to the bottom of this’.
In her response to the criticism, Ms McConnell said lessons have been learned from the matter and claimed it was ‘over enthusiasm’ on the council’s behalf for applying for funding when resources were not in place to complete projects.
“We all acknowledge there has been systems failures in regards to these funding streams. In many cases it was our ambition and our bundles of optimism was greater than our capacity to deliver and that would be influenced by specific pressure to deliver funding for various projects around the county.
“Our systems let us down, and we did not deliver those projects. We have learned from those lessons, and we are focused on the delivery and extensive engagement with the department on an implementation plan on the projects which are to be delivered.
“I heard all the points and am sure management will come back once audit committee made their points,” she said.
Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) now has responsibility of the delivery of greenways in the State, and Cllr Christy Hyland asked that a deputation from the TII make a presentation on the delivery of these projects in the region.

 

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