Investigation under way at Cavan County Council
Fake invoices to the council for work not carried out among allegations examined
Retired Wicklow manager Eddie Sheehy began the investigation into allegations concerning Cavan County Council in March. Photograph: Padraig O’Reilly
“When I say briefed, it was brief,” said one councillor privately, “They would not tell us any detail – amounts and when – and so we’re in a bit of shock because nothing like this has come up before in Cavan County Council.”
It is understood that the allegation is that a senior council official has been implicated in approving invoices from at least one external service provider to the council for work that was never actually carried out.
It is unknown who the ultimate alleged beneficiary, or beneficiaries, of the alleged fraud is, nor for how long the alleged conduct has been going on.
On March 24th, Cavan County Council refused to answer questions posed by The Irish Times about the Sheehy investigation, saying four days later that it was not its practice “to issue statements on issues of this nature”.
Freedom of Information
Later, The Irish Times submitted questions under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), seeking “copies of correspondence” about papers relevant to the investigation, and whether the matter had been referred to the Garda.
On April 10th, Mr Sheehy interviewed council staff about the allegations at a Cavan hotel. Before starting, Mr Sheehy discussed matters with the Cavan director of services, Joe McLaughlin, who is not himself under investigation.
In late April, Cavan County Council’s FOI unit refused The Irish Times’ FOI request, further ruling that it would “not confirm the existence or non-existence of the record(s) concerned”.
The council advised that if the newspaper was not satisfied with this decision, it could apply for a review, sending such request to Mr McLaughlin, the council’s internal review officer.
On April 28th, an internal review request was sent to Mr McLaughlin. Yesterday, the council upheld its original refusal and confirmed that no information would be forthcoming.
In a letter, council official Ger Finn said he had been assigned the review “as the subject matter is part of Mr McLaughlin’s directorate”, adding that he was upholding the original refusal decision.
Under the Act, a public body can refuse to release information if that would amount to a breach of confidence with the source of the information sought, or prejudice the giving of further information to the body.
The Irish Times yesterday appealed this decision to the Information Commissioner, arguing that the information sought concerned matters of “compelling public interest”.
Last week, Cavan manager Tommy Ryan told some councillors formally about the Sheehy investigation, telling them he hoped for a report by June: “We’re in a difficult situation,” said one councillor.
“The problem is we know the individual the allegation is against and we don’t want to blacken him if things aren’t true but we don’t want people off the hook if things are true so due process has to be followed.”