REVEALED: Hundreds of county councillors implicated in scandal over double payments and failure to declare expenses
Questioned about overlapping expense claims, one councillor responded: “I am a self-employed farmer and I had to return home to attend to my animals…"
Hundreds of county councillors have been implicated in a scandal regarding double payments and a failure to declare expenses.
This is according to RTÉ Investigates which, through freedom of information, obtained details of expense claims from every local authority in the country.
This information was subsequently cross-referenced with data obtained from over 30 public bodies, which also pay councillors' expenses.
RTÉ Investigates says the records reveal that hundreds of councillors contravened the Local Government Act by failing to declare expenses received from external organisations.
On top of this, it claims many councillors across Ireland received double payments by incorrectly claiming expenses from their own local authority and from an external organisation for the same official absence.
Jerry Lundy was elected to Sligo County Council in 2004, a seat he held for Fianna Fáil until retiring politically in 2019.
He was also a European Committee of the Regions member, an EU assembly made up of delegates from local authorities.
During its investigation, RTÉ Investigates reports it discovered five examples where Lundy claimed expenses to travel to conferences and training events in Ireland, which coincided with Committee of the Regions events he attended in places such as Belgium and Spain.
According to RTÉ Investigates, Lundy told Sligo County Council that he left home at Tubbercurry at 3pm on Thursday, 12 March, 2015 to attend training in Monaghan.
However, the Committee of the Regions confirmed that Lundy attended a seminar in the Netherlands that Thursday for which he received expenses.
Elected to Clare County Council in 2014 and a former board member of Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board (LCETB), RTÉ Investigates also claims Fine Gael councillor Mary Howard made expense claims for multiple overlapping events.
On one occasion, Howard was to attend a two-day seminar in Cork. She travelled from her home in Ennis to Bantry, where she stayed overnight, only to travel to Limerick the next morning to conduct interviews for the LCETB.
In a statement to RTÉ Investigates, Howard said “I recall having forgotten that I was to conduct interviews with the LCETB... I enjoy driving, thus journeying to and from these locations is not a chore for me.”
Fianna Fáil member of Kilkenny County Council Ger Frisby is also a board member of Kilkenny Carlow Education and Training Board and of the Governing Body of Carlow IT. RTÉ Investigates reports that a four-day period in September 2018 shows a number of overlapping meetings involving the three organisations.
It reveals that in total, he received €1,545 in expenses and fees, according to five expense claims forms given to three State organisations. In a statement to RTÉ Investigates, Frisby apologised and said he is in the process of repaying the €820 he overclaimed.
A member of Fianna Fáil and Monaghan County Council, RTÉ Investigates says it identified several overlapping claims submitted by Councillor Seamus Coyle, involving Monaghan County Council and external bodies.
In regards to the overlapping claims, Coyle stated: “I am a self-employed farmer and I had to return home to attend to my animals”.
Commenting on the conflict of times, he responded: “This was an oversight on my part.”
RTÉ Investigates will present samples of what it uncovered on Prime Time, which airs tonight (Tuesday, 13 July) at 9.35pm on RTÉ One.
Its report is available to read now on RTE.ie.