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Council funding fiasco ‘unprecedented’


ONGOING PROCESS Audits are continuing at the Mayo County Council offices on The Mall in Castlebar.

Department confirm MCC an outlier for funding breaches

Edwin McGreal

No other local authority in the county has had to repay the volume of funding to the Department of Rural and Community Development as Mayo County Council has in recent months.
Last December the authority were forced to hand back €1.09 million in Department funding after it emerged they had falsely claimed the projects were finished. In some cases the projects had not even commenced.
The council also almost lost a further €1.07 million in funding for other projects which they had claimed were finished but were not. However, the Department are allowing the council to complete these projects under strict conditions and deadlines. In respect of these projects, the council have been hit with a sanction of 15 percent of the funding, €161,400.
It all started in 2020 when a Department investigation revealed that a greenway bridge in Achill which Mayo County Council claimed was completed and drew down €200,000 in funding on that basis had not even commenced. Subsequent investigations revealed a total of ten projects which were non compliant, most notably sections of the Clew Bay Trail between Murrisk and Louisburgh.
In response to questions from The Mayo News about the level of repayments and sanctions imposed on Mayo County Council, the Department said they carry out annual inspection programmes of funding provided to local authorities through its different programmes and schemes.
The Department stated that issues ‘typically relate to areas such as procurement, lack of clarity around matched funding and missing documentation’.
“Many of these issues are resolved through follow-up engagement with the relevant local authority, and any funding returned would be of a smaller scale than the funding returned by Mayo County Council in this instance. Inspections and controls provide assurance to the Department that funding provided is managed appropriately by the grant recipients and that the funded projects are being delivered as agreed,” they stated.
The Mayo County Council projects in question were all funded under the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme (ORIS).

Frozen out
Since the news emerged last December, Mayo have been frozen out of the last five rounds of funding from the Department, across a range of schemes including LIS roads funding, Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, the CLÁR Programme and the ORIS.
“The scale of what happened in Mayo is unprecedented,” Cllr Peter Flynn told The Mayo News. “You might have a certain amount of drawing down of funding before a project is finished with an official confident it will be finished in a matter of weeks. I’ve no major difficulty with that. However claiming funding for projects you say have been completed that have not even started such as a bridge in Achill and a whole section of Greenway along the southern side of Clew Bay doesn’t happen anywhere,” added Cllr Flynn.
Flynn has been one of the more outspoken members on the matter since councillors were first informed last December. The investigations commenced in March 2020 and Cllr Flynn takes issue with how it was handled throughout, including councillors ‘being kept in the dark’.
“As as a councillor we’re very reliant on officials giving us solid advice and assisting us. We cannot be experts on everything so we turn to the executive regarding grants, legal advice and so much more. That’s gone out the window now. We were lied to for at least a year by officials about this whole process.
“If I was in the Department’s shoes could I really trust the executive of Mayo County Council to tell us the truth after all of this? The answer is no.
“We were involved in site visits and discussions with landowners about this route (Clew Bay Trail) while the investigation was ongoing. At no stage were we told there was a problem.”
He was also critical of some councillors whom he argues have not taken the matter seriously enough.
“Councillors saying it goes on in other counties and that the complaints are being exaggerated hardly gives the Department any confidence that councillors are willing to get to the bottom of this. This is such a serious issue and needs to be taken far more seriously than some councillors have.”
Mayo County Council are hopeful that the Department will allow the council access to funding from this month on.
In response to questions from The Mayo News last month, the Department said access to their funding schemes will be made available ‘once the department is satisfied with the level of assurance provided through the enhanced procedures and reviews that it receives from Mayo County Council’.
On Friday last, they said that position remains the same.

More on mayonews.ie

Searching for the Clew Bay Trail
Where it all started – the phantom bridge in Achill