Row brewing at Longford County Council over handling of meeting into Caffrey SIPO report

The offices of Longford County Council. Photo by: Michelle Ghee. www.gphotos.ie
A war of words is threatening to erupt between a number of local politicians over last week’s handling of a special behind closed doors meeting into the conduct of Council CEO Tim Caffrey, writes Liam Cosgrove.

A war of words is threatening to erupt between a number of local politicians over last week’s handling of a special behind closed doors meeting into the conduct of Council CEO Tim Caffrey, writes Liam Cosgrove.

The meeting, which was due to take place last Wednesday night, did not happen after it emerged a proposal to hold it “in committee” was not formally sanctioned.

It had been arranged after the release of a Standards in Public Office inquiry found Mr Caffrey acted “negligently to a high degree” by contravening the Local Government Act when he failed to notify the Cathaoirleach of the local authority in writing of his interest in a property which was due to be purchased by a charity with state funding.

Cathaoirleach, Cllr Gerry Warnock had agreed to hold an in-committee (no press) meeting following a request made by Fine Gael group leader, Cllr Micheál Carrigy.

The Ballinalee councillor issued the call at last month’s council meeting after reading an article in the Leader the week previously in which Cllr Warnock said the matter would not be discussed.

Returning to the topic this week, Cllr Warnock insisted there was nothing unusual about last Wednesday’s adjournment as he put the move down to a technical error.

He did however point out that he had very short notice from Cllr Carrigy about the proposed meeting.

“Five minutes before (last month’s) meeting, Cllr Carrigy handed me a letter signed by the eight Fine Gael members calling for a special meeting to discuss the SIPO report.

“I said ‘grand’ and that I had no problem with it and proposed that it be held in committee.

“The problem was I didn’t get a formal seconder,” he said.

Cllr Warnock revealed the issue would likely return before the Council’s December meeting with a view to reconvening early in the new year.

“What I don’t want happening is this suddenly turning into a media frenzy or becoming a kangaroo court,” he said.

He strongly denied that he felt compromised in his role as Cathaoirleach whilst also being a full time Longford County Council employee.

“I learned a long time ago to separate my duties as an employee and elected member and I purposely stepped back from seeking promotion because I always knew I was going down the political route.”

Speaking about the failure of the meeting to go ahead, Cllr Micheál Carrigy said the goings on of last Wednesday night was nothing short of “a joke”.

“It was a complete farce as far as I am concerned,” he raged.

“We requested a meeting, the Chair (Cllr Warnock) accepted that and put forward that it be held in committee.

“We agreed to that, but somehow unknown to us it was raised that the proposal by the Chairperson hadn’t been seconded.”

Cllr Carrigy said serious issues surrounding the meeting remain.

“Questions need to be asked of the chair as to why this meeting was called off if that (no formal seconder) was an issue,” he continued.

“I just think the whole thing is a complete joke.”

Independent Cllr Mae Sexton was more guarded, saying it was imperative the Council acted in a clear and justifiable manner.

“It’s not that I am trying to have a go at anybody. This is all about doing things in the right way and making sure that they hold up under scrutiny,” she said.