A CLARE councillor has said she enjoyed driving and covering long distances was not a chore to her when an investigation highlighted she made claims to different public bodies for overlapping events at distant locations on a number of occasions.
Fine Gael Councillor Mary Howard was one of two Clare elected representatives to feature in an investigation aired by RTE’s Prime Time into alleged breaches of rules on expenses this week.
Councillor Howard had overlapping expense claims for Clare County Council, Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board and GMIT. She had claimed expenses for travel between Bantry and Limerick; Gorey and Galway and also Donegal and Limerick for engagements that overlapped.
Councillor Howard and Fianna Fáil Councillor Clare Colleran Molloy, both elected to Ennis Municipal District, were part of an RTÉ Investigates probe into potential contraventions of the law by councillors through failing to declare expenses received from external organisations.
This week’s Prime Time, RTÉ Investigates show highlighted a sample of what was uncovered, and outlined four separate instances in which Councillor Howard’s commitments with either the Limerick & Clare Education & Training Board or GMIT clashed with training seminars expensed to the Council.
Among the instances outlined in the programme was a claim by Councillor Howard from the council of €532 for attending a seminar in Cork from a Thursday to a Sunday, travelling from Ennis to Bantry.
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However, there was also a claim made to the training board for the Friday morning for travel to Limerick.
Councillor Howard told the programme that she drove to Bantry on Thursday and stayed overnight but forgot that she was to conduct interviews in Limerick the following morning.
She said that she drove back to Limerick early on Friday, and then returned to Bantry later that day.
On other occasions she covered the ground between Gorey and Galway and also Donegal and Limerick when making expense claims for engagements that were on around the same time.
In a statement to RTÉ Investigates she said “I recall having forgotten that I was to conduct interviews with the LCETB”, she later went on to explain “I enjoy driving, thus journeying to and from these locations is not a chore for me.”
The investigation also referred to Councillor Colleran Molloy, stating she attended two separate events in Dublin and Meath on the same day in 2017, returning to Ennis between events, and lodged two separate expense claims to Clare County Council.
In a statement Councillor Howard said she has been in contact with Clare County Council and the other named bodies and has asked them to review the matter and to rectify the situation where appropriate.
Attempts were made to contact Councillor Colleran Molloy however there was no response at the time of going to press.
She had told RTÉ Investigates her expense claims were made “in good faith” but there were two errors for which she took “full responsibility” and Clare County Council has been reimbursed.
Following the airing of the show Councillor Howard issued a statement saying she attended all events she has claimed for.
“I replied directly to RTÉ in relation to the queries that they raised with regards to myself. I have also been in contact with Clare County Council and the other named bodies and have asked them to review the matter and to rectify the situation where appropriate.
“For absolute clarity, I can confirm that I attended all events on all dates in question for which I claimed travel and subsistence payments. I hope to bring this matter to a conclusion within the coming days,” she said.
According to the investigation, Councillor Colleran Molloy claimed a total of 1,000km for attending two events on the same day. Expense claims outline that after an IPB meeting in Dublin she returned to Ennis and then later drove to a Spring Training Seminar of the Local Authority Members Association (LAMA) in Gormanston.
The rules stipulate that, in such situations, a councillor is entitled to claim for “the shortest overall route” between the two events and not for two return trips home.
Councillor Colleran Molloy told the investigation that her claims were made “in good faith” but that she realised that “two errors were made for which I take full responsibility”.
She said that she had to return to Ennis from Dublin to attend to an “urgent personal matter.” She has reimbursed €343 to Clare County Council.
When contacted by The Clare Champion about the investigation, a spokesperson for Clare County Council said, “Clare County Council processes councillor expenses on the basis of signed declarations in accordance with Local Government circulars. The Council has no further comment at this time.”
The full RTE Investigates programme can be viewed here
– By Jessica Quinn