TAKEN TO TASK Independent councillor Richard Finn.
A debate on Mayo County Council’s handling of the Great Greenway Scandal at yesterday’s monthly meeting of the authority became very heated.
Cllrs Peter Flynn (FG) and Richard Finn (Ind) got involved in a war of words as the repercussions from the funding scandal continue.
The matter came up for discussion under Director of Finance’s Peter Duggan’s report on the council’s annual financial statement.
Cllr Flynn took issue with Mr Duggan saying that ‘miscoding’ of items was a ‘key finding’ in an audit of the council by the Department of Rural and Community Development.
Last December it emerged that Mayo County Council had falsely declared eleven greenway projects in the county were complete. They had signed declarations in 2019 that some projects which had not even started were finished, and drew down their completion funding from Government. When this was discovered, the council had to return over €1 million in Government funding. It has been allowed to proceed with another €1 million worth of projects, but only under strict terms and conditions.
Mr Duggan said the council’s standards ‘regrettably’ fell and said ‘robust procedures’ to stop a reoccurrence are being approved.
Cllr Flynn said that he ‘couldn’t stomach’ ‘miscoding being the key finding’, saying ‘the people of west Mayo’, where most of the projects were based, would say the ‘key findings’ were ‘false claims’ and that ‘no one has been held to account’ and there has been ‘no apology’.
He proposed the annual financial statement be amended, and this was seconded by Cllr Michael Kilcoyne.
Cllr Damien Ryan (FF) said he is ‘a firm believer that in order to move forward we’ve to leave what happened in the past in the past’.
Cllr Gerry Coyle (FG) said ‘sometimes we make a big fuss about mistakes and we never look at the good stuff’.
Cllr Finn then blamed the Department, saying ‘I cannot understand how Departments can sanction money for projects which are not shovel ready’.
Cllr Flynn responded immediately.
“I cannot let that comment go. I’m stunned Cllr Finn would pass blame onto the Department. They only approve funding when councils send them claims for projects they say are shovel ready. Ten fraudulent claims were made. No one else is to blame. This is not something happening in any other county,” he said, before asking Cllr Finn to withdraw his remark.
“I’ve no intention of withdrawing it,” retorted Cllr Finn. “You say you’re an accountant and an auditor well I’ve a degree in economics so I am as fit as you to stand up and talk,” he said, before both exchanged further words on the matter.
Cllr Jarlath Munnelly (FG) came in, saying Cllr Finn ‘laying the blame at someone else’s door is idiotic to be honest’.
“That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard in Mayo County Council, and that’s saying something,” said Cllr Munnelly.
Responding later on, Mr Duggan said that miscoding was ‘one of the key findings’, adding that ‘it goes without saying’ that what Cllr Flynn referred to ‘was also a key finding’ in how he had outlined it in his report.
In the report, Mr Duggan reported an income in the council’s revenue account of €184.5 million, and €130.4 million income in their capital account, for 2021. The relevant expenditure figures were €184.3 million for the revenue account and €126.5 million for the capital account.
He said there is a deficit of €3.7 million on the revenue account overall, which had been brought down by over €1 million over the past three to four years but needed to be reduced further.
He said the past two years with Covid had seen the council deal with ‘financial challenges like we’ve never encountered’.
Cllr Peter Flynn took issue with the figure for salaries in the council, highlighting it had gone from €44.8 million in 2019 to €50.3 million in 2021.
“That’s an increase of 12.5 percent at a time when most businesses would be experiencing a fall,” he said, asking for a breakdown.
Cllr Michael Kilcoyne echoed this, saying ‘this happened during a year when the council offices were closed most of the time to the public’.