Councillor fined for fraudulent expenses
A town councillor has been fined €500 after he pleaded guilty to fraudulently claiming overnight expenses for a conference on water management he did not attend.
Cllr Pat Melia (51) from Ard na Gréine, Macroom, Co Cork, pleaded guilty to making gain by causing a loss by deception to Macroom Town Council between April 13th and April 27th last year. Insp Gerry Lacey told Macroom District Court that Melia, an Independent councillor, went to Galway to attend a conference on water reform last April.
The council reserved a place for him at the conference at the Galway Bay Hotel and he registered on arrival on April 13th but travelled back to Macroom later that night.
Melia told councillors at the next monthly meeting that a lot of what went on at the conference “went over his head”, said Insp Lacey. He later submitted an expenses claim to the council for mileage and subsistence of €551, which included €218 subsistence for two overnights to which he was not entitled.
Melia’s solicitor, Seán Cahill, said the offence was not premeditated and his client had gone to Galway intending to attend the conference and stay over after signing in at the conference.
However, the Labour Party annual conference was on in Galway at the time and he found it difficult to obtain accommodation and thought initially of sleeping in his car.
Instead he drove home to Macroom intending to return to Galway the next day but a domestic matter arose which prevented his return to the conference, said Mr Cahill.
Judge James McNulty said the sum was relatively insignificant but the consequences were significant for Melia, particularly in terms of having a conviction for theft against his name.
He noted that Melia, who works part-time as a merchandiser in a local supermarket, had paid back the €218 he had fraudulently claimed.
“He has lowered himself in the esteem of his fellow citizens in Macroom and further afield . . . he has suffered the humiliation and embarrassment of having a conviction for theft.”
Judge McNulty said he didn’t think a custodial sentence was appropriate given that Melia had immediately admitted the offence and co-operated fully with gardaí when arrested.
He fined Melia, whom the court heard was married and has two young children, €500 and gave him three months to pay.
A native of Co Kildare, Melia was elected to the council in 2009 for Fianna Fáil but resigned from the party in July last year and now sits as an Independent.