Councillor Brendan Byrne has called on the County Manager Seamus Neilly to release all documents pertaining to Donegal County Council’s investigation of Councillor Terence Slowey in a bid to secure closure of the matter and to ensure the public that the matter was dealt with adequately by Donegal County Council.
Fine Gael councillor, Terence Slowey has admitted to four contraventions of the Local Government Act in relation to expense claims he made for attending two conferences on the same weekend in Cork and Kerry in 2008.
The investigation into the councillor’s expense claim was headed by the Donegal Democrat last year and followed up accordingly by Donegal County Council. Last week Councillor Frank McBrearty slammed the method in which the Slowey affair was handled adding that it was unfair to Cllr. Slowey. He said: “I would question the way it was handled. I am not condoning what he did but it looks to me like the move against him was orchestrated,” he said.
Yesterday, Councillor Brendan Byrne, who was officiating as the County Mayor at the time of the investigation, said that everything that was done in relation to the investigation was correct and verified subsequently by a number of independent investigating bodies. He said: “On April 26, during a council meeting, I stated at length the procedures and the format in which the investigation took place. Initially, I outlined how the ethics register of the council investigated the matter on behalf of the council. The ethics registrar of the council, in turn made a recommendation to the County Manager, at that time, Michael McLoone, and myself that there was a possible contravention of the Local Government Act.”
On receipt of this information, the former County Manager and Mayor engaged the County solicitor to further investigate the matter under section 174, subsection 8 of the Local Government Act. “This marked the second time that the matter was investigated by an independent body. The conclusions of that investigation was made available on June 29 and again the conclusion was that there was a possible contravention by the named councillor of a possible four contraventions of the Local Government Act,” he said.
The recommendation of the solicitor under the act was to explore the options of sending the information forward to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) or to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO). The information was sent to SIPO. “The conclusion met by the ethics registrar, the county solicitor and SIPO are all one and the same and found that Slowey contravened the Local Government Act and framework. For any councillor to say that he would question the motives and the way in which it was handled is being reckless himself by making such a public comment,” Cllr. Byrne said.
The Carrick-based councillor said that the investigation was carried out by all bodies in a professional manner and afforded everyone equal opportunity to make their contribution, defence or otherwise. “This can be substantiated by the referral document sent by the Donegal County Council to the Standards in Public Office Commission, a document that I am now calling on the County Manager to release to the public in order that they can get the full facts with the substantiating document so that they can determine for themselves the circumstances of this case,” he said.
The councillor added that he questioned how they as a council dealt with the issue in the council chambers on April 26. “It is my considered belief that we did not deal with the conclusions of the SIPO report properly or correctly when it was referred back to us on April 26. As a council we did not deal with it under section 180 of the Local Government Act as outlined by the Department of Finance,” he said.
The Department of Finance who issued a statement in relation to the issue said: “Under section 180 of the Local Government Act 2001 where a report of the Commission is furnished to a local authority, it shall be considered by the elected council and the elected council shall decide on such action to be taken as may be considered appropriate in all the circumstances.”
Cllr. Byrne has questioned why during the course of the debate no one referred to the relevant section while discussing the issue. “In order to bring closure to the ongoing event, which is now necessary, I am asking that all facts pertaining to this investigation be made public so that no doubt can be left in the public mind as to our handling as a council of this matter.
For that to be obtained the county manager will have to consent to release the referral document signed the former County Manager and the Former Mayor which clearly outlines the conclusions of the internal investigation conducted by Donegal County Council into this matter,” he said.