Council chief mulls action after Sipo ruling

A senior county council official has threatened to take court action against the State’s ethics watchdog after it found he failed to tell his own local authority it was helping a charity to buy a €259,000 property he owned.
Council chief mulls action after Sipo ruling

Tim Caffrey, who was found by a Standards in Public Office (Sipo) report yesterday to have breached vital guidelines by not fully disclosing his link to the home, said that he “utterly rejects” the claim he “did not act in good faith” and that the independent body was “not entitled” to draw the conclusion.

In a detailed report published last night, Sipo said the Longford County Council CEO “contravened ethics legislation” when he “failed to disclose” his links to a property that was subsequently purchased by the local authority.

The home, at The Mill, Clondra, Co Longford, was bought by the Muiriosa Foundation, a housing agency for people with intellectual disabilities, in 2013 after it received a €259,000 grant from the Department of Environment sought by Longford County Council.

While Mr Caffrey said he told senior council officials he owned the property and placed it on the ethics register, he did not inform Longford mayor Cllr Larry Bannon in writing, a move required under the Local Government Act.

As a result, the Sipo report, overseen by retired High Court judge Daniel O’Keeffe, concluded that Mr Caffrey was “negligent to a high degree” in failing to fully explain his interest in the “serious matter” and did “not act in good faith”.

“In coming to these determinations, the commission rejects Mr Caffrey’s submission that the contravention was committed inadvertently and that it was in all the circumstances minor in nature,” the report stressed.

“In particular, the commission finds that Mr Caffrey’s failure to inform himself of the relevant statutory provisions could not be construed as inadvertent, particularly having regard to the requirement to sign a declaration on an annual basis in respect of the code of conduct.

“The failure is particularly significant, given that he would have signed such a declaration each year following the commencement of the relevant provision in 2004,” it found.

Responding to the conclusions in a statement last night, Mr Caffrey said he is “very disappointed” by the findings and is “now considering the option of pursuing a judicial review”.

He said while Sipo was tasked with examining whether his actions were “negligent or an oversight” — the latter of which he insists was the case — and “serious or minor”, it was “not entitled” to draw any conclusion the official “did not act in good faith”.

“He [Mr Caffrey] utterly rejects this finding, as he has always acted in good faith in public office during an unblemished career of 45 years as a public servant in local government,” a statement released last night on the Longford county council chief executive’s behalf read.

“He is considering a judicial review,” it added.

It previously emerged the price of the home at the centre of the controversy was increased by €14,000 to €259,000 just days after the Muiriosa Foundation submitted paperwork seeking the departmental grant.

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