Council calls in watchdog over county manager’s proposed house sale

Liam Cosgrove

Reporter:

Liam Cosgrove

The house at The Mill, Clondra owned by Longford County Manager, Tim Caffrey. Photo: Shelley Corcoran
Councillors have called in the Standards of Public Office Commission to look into a decision to allocate €250,000 of taxpayers’ money to purchase a house owned by Longford County Manager Tim Caffrey.

Councillors have called in the Standards of Public Office Commission to look into a decision to allocate €250,000 of taxpayers’ money to purchase a house owned by Longford County Manager Tim Caffrey.

The move comes after a number of elected members held a meeting with Mr Caffrey yesterday (Monday) afternoon.

Those discussions, held “in committee” and away from the media, focused on reports the six figure sum had been made available to buy Mr Caffrey’s Clondra based house for the purposes of a state Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS).

For their part, the Council confirmed last night (Monday) that Mr Caffrey had declared his interest in the property.

Following correspondence sent out by the council to various bodies indicating money had been made available under the CAS scheme, the Muiriosa Foundation wrote back asking the local authority to make a submission on their behalf.

On foot of subsequent application by Longford County Council, the Department of Environment approved €250,638 for the acquisition of a property for Muiriosa, a Kildare based body that helps people with intellectual disabilities.

Longford County Council has since confirmed that the house located at 33 The Mill, Clondra is owned by County Manager Tim Caffrey.

In a statement, the Co Council said that it “did not have a role in the identification of the property which was put forward by Muiriosa Foundation in their application for assistance.”

The Council also pointed out that Mr Caffrey had declared his interest in the property.

The Co Council added that an independent valuation of the premises was carried out as part of the application.

At yesterday’s “information meeting” which was attended by some, but not all, councillors Mr Caffrey himself is believed to have read a prepared statement outlining his own position.

The County Manager was not present at last week’s meeting of Longford County Council where several members had earlier expressed reservations over the issue.

Head of Finance Barry Lynch said he received notification from Muiriosa that morning (Wednesday) informing him the registered charity wanted to hold off on the project for now.

“Some of the people who were earmarked for the project, they may have to make different arrangements for,” he told elected members.

He also explained how the issue and decision to select the detached two storey dwelling had come about in the first place.

“The Department calls for proposals in the summer under the Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS) and we contacted local bodies. This would have gone up to the Department to be assessed and they then decided to approve this,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment confirmed that funding had been approved.

“As far as we are concerned the funding has been approved,” said a spokesman with a statement from the Department confirming it had no idea Mr Caffrey was the owner of the property earmarked for purchase.

“The Department does not have a role in the selection of particular properties for acquisition by an Approved Housing Body and would not, at any time, be aware of the identity of the vendor.

“It is a matter for the local authority to satisfy itself that the property is fit for purpose, that it complies with all statutory requirements (planning and building regulations and that it offers value for money. It is an absolute requirement that an independent valuation by a competent person is provided in support of the application.”

Cllr Mae Sexton was quick to voice her own concerns as to how the said property was originally selected.

“One has to ask how a house that is so isolated with no services, no transport, no shops is being purchased,,” she asked, adding that, “you have to ask if it is value for money.”

The Leader, meanwhile, contacted Muiriosa over the weekend where its CEO Brendan Broderick confirmed that the project had, in fact, stalled due to the fact they no longer had suitable tenants for the house. Mr Broderick also said that his understanding was that the Co Council had identified the property for selection.