A county councillor has said he was “nearly speechless” after being told by council officials that a disclosure of interests has not been made over proposed sale of land to the council for use for social housing.
The Letterkenny municipal district meeting was adjourned for 15 minutes while officials responded to a request from independent councillor Dessie Shiels as to whether a declaration of interest had been made.
The offer of land was withdrawn before the July meeting of the council, after Cllr. Shiels and Fianna Fáil councillor Liam Blaney requested a report on the issue. The council has been left with no proposed transactions and will again be advertising for expressions of interest for land for social housing.
Cllr. Shiels told the meeting that it was a criminal offence not to make a declaration of interest.
Cllr. Shiels raised concerns about the minutes of the July meeting during the open minutes of this week’s meeting on Tuesday in Milford.
Had issue with minutes
He said he had an issue with the minutes as the name of the proposed vendor who withdrew from the proposed sale had not been included in the report as requested.
Mr Ward said that he had stated previously that there was certain information that could not be included in the report due to commercial sensitivity.
Cllr. Shiels said that what he was asking was a very serious question and asked Mr Ward was he refusing to give the name of the vendor. Mr Ward replied that he did not prepare the report and he was only seeing it for the first time.
“The undertaking I gave at the last meeting that a report would be prepared,” he said.
Cllr. Shiels asked whether a disclosure had been made under the Local Government Act in relation to any matter in the minutes, adding that it was a legal requirement that a disclosure be made.
“You seem to be intent in blocking off my line of question. I am an elected member,” he said. “You can't prevent me from dealing with questions about these minutes. There is a statutory requirement in relation to these minutes,” Cllr. Shiels added.
Mr Ward said that if a disclosure had been made at the last meeting then it would appear in the minutes.
Cllr. Shiels read part of section 177 of the legislation to the meeting: “Where a member of a local authority, committee, joint committee or joint body of the local authority has actual knowledge that a matter is likely to arise at a meeting at which that member will not be present and which, if he or she were present, a disclosure would be required to be made under subsection (1), then that person shall in advance of such meeting make such disclosure in writing and furnish it to the ethics registrar.”
Cllr. Shiels called for an adjournment of the meeting so it could be clarified if a disclosure had been made.
“This is a matter of ethics. It is not not a petty matter, it is very, very important. No one should have any difficulty in giving an answer. This is very serious. Its affects each person that is in this room.”
The proposed adjournment was seconded by Cllr. Gerry McMonagle (SF).
After a 15-minute adjournment Mr Ward told the meeting that no declaration had been made in relation to the specific item on the agenda.
“I am nearly speechless,” Cllr. Shiels said. “It is a criminal offence not to make a disclosure, and it can result in disqualification from being a member of the council.”
Sinn Fein councillor Mick Quinn asked Cllr Shiels for clarification on the issue. “It appears to me that Cllr. Shiels is suggesting that one of the members of this municipal district failed to make a declaration and should have made a declaration.”
Cllr. Shiels responded by saying: “No, don't put words in my mouth. You can impute whatever you like Mick. I haven't said anything about any member.”
Cllr. Shiels said he had asked a simple question and had received an answer. “No disclosure has been been made in relation to specific item on our agenda,” he added.
Cllr. Shiels and Cllr. Blaney had asked questions about the proposed land deal at the June meeting of the council which was due to go for departmental approval. The offer to sell land was withdrawn before the July meeting but both councillors demanded a report be brought before the September meeting.
The report submitted to the September meeting stated that eight submissions were received and assessed and two were selected for further consideration. “One of these parcels was at Mountain Top, Letterkenny, however, the vendor withdrew his interest in selling to the council at this time and so there is no land purchase proceeding at this location.
“Unfortunately the process did not ultimately deliver any land purchase.”