Lawlor and Staples cleared in cash payment report
A Council official charged with enquiring into a €400 cash payment made by Labour councillor George Lawlor to Fine Gael member Frank Staples at the time of a mayoral pact in 2014, said he is of the opinion that it did not constitute a breach of local government regulations.
Director of Services Eddie Taaffe prepared a report into the undeclared payment following a complaint by Sinn Fein councillor Tom Forde.
Mr. Taaffe concluded: 'On the basis of information available to me from written and oral submissions, I am satisfied that, in this instance, there was no breach of Section 171 of the Local Government Act.
Reacting to the finding, Cllr. Lawlor, the current Mayor of Wexford said it is clear that there was 'no breach of any regulation or code of conduct'.
'This was a political attack on me to maximise damage before a by-election. The case is now closed. I want to move on. It has been very distracting. I want to get back to work', he said.
However, Cllr. Forde called the report 'farcical'. He said it didn't address a discrepancy in the payment. In his initial complaint, he said Cllr. Lawlor personally informed him that €1200 was paid and that amount later became €400.
This was not addressed in the report and was 'completely ignored', according to the Sinn Fein councillor who said it could have been very easily verified.
The complaint related to alleged breaches of Part 15 of the Local Government Act by certain members of the Wexford Borough District Council during the 2014-2019 term.
Cllr. Lawlor and Cllr. Staples along with Cllrs. Ger Carthy, Jim Moore and Lisa McDonald submitted written observations while Cllr. Lawlor and Cllr. Staples also attended and gave oral submissions.
Cllrs. Moore and Carthy stated that they did not receive or make any payments associated with their holding of the office of Mayor or Deputy Mayor during the relevant Council term while Cllr. McDonald was not a member of the mayoral pact from 2014-2019 and only attended the 2018 agm where she voted for her party colleague Tony Dempsey (now retired).
Mr. Taaffe said based on the information available to him, he is satisfied that Cllrs. Moore, Carthy and McDonald had no involvment whatsoever in the matters at the centre of Cllr. Forde's complaint.
Cllrs. Lawlor and Staples both said an exchange of €400 did take place after the 2014 agm, in the context of the recent abolition of an annual allowance for Deputy Mayor of €500.
'Both councillors, in my opinion, considered the exchange a re-distribution of the Mayoral allowance in recognition of out of pocket expenses and not as a payment', said Mr. Taaffe.
Based on the submissions received, the official said he was satisifed that the explanation of both councillors was 'reasonable and credible, ie, that the exchange of €400 was a voluntary re-distribution of the Mayoral Allowance in recognition of the previous €500 annual allowance that had just been abolished at the time, and that at the time, neither councillor considered the matter as a potential breach of Part 15 of the Local Government Act or the 'Code of Conduct for Councillors'.
Mr. Taaffe said it could be argued that the exchange or re-distribution of the Mayoral allowance was non-compliant with Section 170 which states that: '..a member of a local authority shall not seek, exact or accept from any person, other than the local authority concerned, any remuneration, fee or other reward or other favour, for anything done or not done by virtue of his or her employment or office'.
But both councillors stated, and Mr. Taaffe said he accepted, that the context was a redistribution of a portion of the statutory mayoral allowance to the Mayor's duly elected Deputy in recognition of out of pocket expenses.
'Consequently, while on one interpretation it could be argued that Cllr. Staples' acceptance of the monies may have amounted to a technical breach of Section 171, I am of the opinion that Cllr. Staples did not knowingly or intentially breach Section 171 as the payment was not accepted in return for 'anything done or not done by virtue of his or her employment of office'.
Mr. Taaffe further stated that he did not believe that this could be regarded as a 'gift' for the purposes of Section 171 of the Local Government Act.
In his summary, Mr. Taaffe said it should be pointed out that Wexford County Council was not out of pocket in any way due to the exchange.
'With regard to alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct for Councillors, again the events must be seen in the context of the discussions surrounding the formation of a pact for the purposes of the Election of Mayors where no one party grouping has an overall majority.
Such discussions and pact agreements are commonplace and are not of themselves breaches of the Code of Conduct', he said.
'No other exchanges or re-distribution of allowances have been reported', he added.