Councillor found guilty of theft and fraud

Wed, Mar 7, 2007, 00:00

A Galway county councillor was found guilty yesterday by a jury of seven counts of theft and fraud involving the misappropriation of over €7,000 of council funding by using the public money to have over a mile of fencing erected on his private farm.

The jury at Galway Circuit Criminal Court sitting in Loughrea returned a unanimous verdict finding Independent councillor, Michael Fahy, the longest-serving member of Galway County Council, guilty after just two-and-a-half hours' deliberation.

In a trial that lasted five days, Cllr Fahy (56), of Caherduff, Ardrahan, vehemently denied he had "lined his pockets" with public money or that he owed the council any money for any work done on his farm under the auspices of a Community Involvement Scheme(CIS).

The scheme involves local communities, with the aid of public funding, carrying out road improvement works in their areas for the benefit of everyone.

The court had heard from prosecuting barrister, Conor Fahy, that 1,629m (5,344ft) of fencing had been erected on Cllr Fahy's land, which he had fraudulently sought payment for from the council under a CIS. None of that fencing was to the public's benefit.

The council had approved payment for 877m of fencing, including 50m along the public road adjacent to Cllr Fahy's land, as this was for the local community's benefit, but had not approved the cost of the fencing on his land away from the public road.

The councillor, a strong Fianna Fáil activist since first taking a seat in 1979 until the charges were preferred against him, topped the poll at each successive local election.

He made no comment as he left the courtroom following his conviction. He was accompanied by 17 neighbours. He now faces legal expenses in the region of €200,000 and his political future is uncertain.

The accused denied he had submitted "bogus and concocted" invoices for Byrne Fencing Ltd, in the sum of €7,055, on two separate dates in 2003. The fencing company had been contracted by the council to carry out work under two CISs in the south Galway area in 2001 and 2002.

Mr Byrne told the trial Cllr Fahy had told him in 2003 he had the permission of the council to have the fencing erected on his farm, and Mr Byrne said he had regarded Cllr Fahy as "the boss" as he was an elected member of the council for the area. The council paid the initial invoice but refused to pay the second. Mr Byrne said he was surprised when the council refused to pay the invoice and that Cllr Fahy had eventually paid him for the work himself.

Ten council officials, including retired county manager, Donal O'Donoghue, and senior engineer with responsibility for CISs, John Morgan, all gave evidence refuting a claim by the accused that they had an agreement with him to carry out fencing on his land in exchange for stone taken by the council from his lands for local Fás schemes.

Judge Groarke deferred sentencing until March 20th at Galway Courthouse and he remanded the accused on continuing bail.