Longford County Council CEO Tim Caffrey told a Standards in Public Office (SIPO) hearing in Dublin on Monday that he was deeply embarrassed over events which led to a breach in ethics by him over two years ago.
The veteran public servant admitted he contravened ethics rules when he failed to disclose in writing to then-Mayor Larry Bannon his ownership of a property that was being purchased through State funds on behalf of the voluntary housing body the Muiriosa Foundation back in July 2013.
In his evidence to the hearing, Mr Caffrey said this was an “inadvertent” breach of the Ethical Framework for the Local Government Service and insisted he was unaware of the technical requirement to make the disclosure in writing.
Mr Caffrey also claimed he had notified the appropriate staff members of Longford County Council of his ownership of the property in an “open and transparent manner”.
“I am the CEO of Longford Co Council and have been a public servant for the past 45 years,” he told the hearing, before adding that during his long and distinguished career, he served not only in Longford, but also in Clare, Sligo, and Dublin.
“It is of deep personal embarrassment that I was not aware of the section and I accept that I failed to notify the mayor of my interest in a house that was subject to a capital funding grant.”
The CEO of the local authority then went on to point out that he had always sought to comply with best practice and with ethics rules, but simply “did not know” that he was obliged to notify the chair of Longford County Council in writing at the time.
“Now I know,” he said.
He added, “I believed that my requirements were to be done so in respect of the Codes of Conduct under the Local Government Act and I made sure that Barry Lynch [Housing Director, Longford Co Council] and there other members of the executive knew of my interest.
“It has since been brought to my attention that I needed to inform the Cathaoirleach of my interest; had I known that at the time, I would have done so.”
Under cross examination by the Commission’s chairman Maurice Collins, Mr Caffrey said he was aware of Section 179 of the Local Government Act which obliged officials under his position in the county council to notify him if they had a material interest in anything before the council.
But he said he was not aware of Section 178, which obliged him as county manager to notify the county council chairman in writing of any conflicting interests.
“I should have been aware of it, I accept that - but I wasn’t,”added Mr Caffrey.
“This was an executive function, so I believed that by informing the employees, I was in fact complying with ethics regulations.
“I believe that I went above and beyond what was required under Ethics legislation by letting the staff at Longford Co Council know of my interests in the property in question.”
Outlining a number of mitigating factors, Senior Counsel Peter Bland, instructed by Mark Connellan Solicitors, said that his client had worked as a public servant for 45 years and intended to retire next Spring.
Mr Bland insisted that it would be a shame if Mr Caffrey left office with a blemished reputation after such a long period of service, especially when he had made a genuine mistake.
“Mr Caffrey has accepted his mistake throughout the process as well as to the inquiry office and the Commission,” the solicitor continued.
“I ask that the Commission see this for what it was - a genuine mistake - because Mr Caffrey was not aware of his obligations under the aforementioned section.
“It is also necessary for me to say that the public can continue to have confidence in the performance of the future of Longford Co Council and there is nothing to suggest that Mr Caffrey deliberately or consciously didn’t make a formal declaration of his property.
“It was an inadvertent mistake on his part - it did not cause impropriety in the process of the application and Mr Caffrey took measures to ensure public confidence.
“It would be remiss of the Commission to reach a conclusion in this matter that would destroy Mr Caffrey’s reputation - he is deeply embarrassed and contrite over this.”
Thereafter, Mr Collins made submissions in respect of the matter.
“The Commission should have regard to all of the circumstances, but probe the evidence and ask itself questions.
“It is also open to the Commission to take the view that Mr Caffrey was not aware of his obligations - yet as Co Manager he was obliged to inform himself on all matters.”
The matter was subsequently adjourned to allow the members to deliberate.
The hearing was told that a report would be furnished to all the relevant parties in due course.
Monday’s SIPO hearing was presided over by Deirdre Lane, Peter Tyndall, Justice Daniel O’Keeffe, Seamus McCarthy, Peter Finnegan and Jim O’Keeffe.