Gardaí probe alleged misuse of public funds

Gardaí are investigating the alleged misuse of public funds in the Ballyjamesduff Municipal District area, The Anglo-Celt can reveal.

It emerged that the matter has been referred to An Garda Síochána when Cavan County Council refused a request for information from this newspaper into the local authority’s own internal investigation under the Freedom of Information Act.

The investigations arose in 2017 after a whistleblower made a Protected Disclosure raising concerns about the possible misappropriation of funds.

The Protected Disclosure made by an employee to the then Minister for Housing, Simon Coveney, in early April 2017, was initially investigated by former Wicklow CEO Eddie Sheehy.

Following that, a number of significant files, including several interim reports, were shared by the council with the office of Local Government Oversight and Governance at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

The Celt learned from a schedule of documents, not released, that there was a constant exchange of documentation, either by letter or email, between the council and the department on the case.

In May 2017, Council Chief Executive Tommy Ryan wrote to the Department assuring them that the investigation was being conducted in a “thorough, robust and methodical manner”.

In August 2017, now retired Director of Services Joe McLoughlin, informed officials at the Local Government Oversight and Governance that the investigation was, at that stage, “substantially complete”. The council had previously refused to confirm that it had any records related to the investigation. They did so only when directed to by the Office of the Information Commissioner.

The Department confirmed that it received the investigation report in August 2018 but a second protected disclosure, from another council employee, was also made.

In the latest reply to a Freedom of Information request, the council informed that the reason to refuse access to information was that the records sought “relate to matters the subject of an ongoing Garda investigation”.

They claim the release of any such records could “prejudice or impair” said investigation, adding that the existence of “any such records is neither confirmed nor denied”.

When asked directly whether the matter has been referred to An Garda Síochána as a potentially criminal matter, the local authority responded: “This matter is ongoing. Cavan County Council will not be making any further comment.” Other reasons for refusing access to information include that the council feel granting access would “adversely affect” the FOI body’s ability to exercise its management functions as they relate to the management of its staff. “It would not serve the public interest to allow access to any such records.”

“Legal privilege” is another reason cited, and the FOI officer adds that granting access to such records would constitute a breach of a duty of confidence provided for by the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014.