Councillor fined for false conference expenses

A town councillor has been fined €500 after being convicted of falsely claiming expenses for a conference he did not attend.

Pat Melia, aged 51, of 19 Ard na Greine, Macroom, Co Cork, a member of Macroom Town Council, pleaded guilty at Macroom District Court yesterday to a single charge of making a gain by deception under the Theft and Fraud Offences Act on dates between Apr 13 and Apr 27.

In imposing sentence, Judge James McNulty said: “He lowered himself in the esteem of his fellow citizens both in Macroom and further afield.”

The judge said he did not feel it was appropriate to impose a custodial sentence, given the guilty plea, and he said the embarrassment and humiliation for a conviction for theft will have consequences for Mr Melia in employment and otherwise.

“That’s all part of the punishment,” he said.

Inspector Gerry Lacey told the court the former Fianna Fáil councillor was granted permission to attend a conference on reform of the Irish water sector in the Galway Bay Hotel in April.

Mr Melia, who is now an Independent, travelled to Galway on Apr 13 and registered for the conference, but returned to Macroom on the same day.

The court was told the councillor later said the substance of the conference went over his head.

He subsequently lodged an expenses claim with the town council for mileage, to which he was entitled, and for subsistence, a portion of which he was entitled to.

The total amount claimed was €552.26 but Mr Melia was not entitled to two overnight subsistence claims which amounted to €218.

Insp Lacey said Mr Melia was arrested following a complaint, and admitted the offence.

His solicitor, Sean Cahill, described the incident as a “complete and utter act of stupidity” and said it was not premeditated.

He said the Labour Party conference was on in Galway the same weekend and his client found it impossible to secure overnight accommodation.

“He considered sleeping in his car but conditions were bad,” he said.

“He travelled to Macroom with the intention of going back to Galway on the Saturday but a domestic situation arose and he didn’t travel.”

He pointed to the fact that the expenses system is unvouched but said that does not take away from what his client did, and the €218 was repaid in court yesterday.

Mr Cahill also provided the court with medical reports, outlining the stress and anxiety the case has caused to Mr Melia, and character references, including one from the parish priest, and from the manager of the Briery Gap cultural centre.

Judge McNulty noted the reports, Mr Melia’s contribution to the local community, his early admission of guilt, and his full co-operation with gardaí.

However, he said: “It is not a thing of no consequence. The amount involved is relatively insignificant but the implications are very significant.”

He convicted Mr Melia and gave him three months to pay the fine.

Mr Melia left the courtroom and declined to comment.

From Monasterevin in Co Kildare, the married father of two moved to Macroom in 2000 and was elected to Macroom Town Council in Jun 2009.

He resigned from Fianna Fáil last summer.

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