The Alleged Contraventions

4.     The Alleged Contraventions

4.1     The issues to be determined by the Commission were whether Councillor Doherty contravened the Local Government Act 2001 and had done a series of "specified acts" as set out in the nine contraventions in the Statement of Alleged Contraventions.

4.2     The alleged contraventions concern the claiming of travelling and subsistence expenses from Donegal County Council and Údarás na Gaeltachta. A claim for reimbursement of expenses by Donegal County Council was initiated by the completion of a written claim, which, inter alia, contained the following declarations by Councillor Doherty:

“(c)  This claim is made strictly in accordance with the Local Government (Expenses of Local Authority Members) Regulations 1993 and directions thereunder.

(d)   The statements and particulars furnished herein are complete and accurate in all respects.

(e)    No other payment has been made to me or is payable to me in respect of the time(s), journey(s) or other matters set out herein.

(f)    I have not made, and will not make, any other claims for payment in respect of the time(s) journey(s) or other matters set out herein.”

4.3     The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government issued Directions in Circular LG 33/06 of 21 December 2006 setting out the detailed rules for the claiming of travelling and subsistence expenses. Relevant extracts are set out in Appendix 2.

4.4     A written form for claiming expenses from Údarás na Gaeltachta also had to be completed.

4.5     Board members of Údarás na Gaeltachta are entitled to claim travelling and subsistence allowances in line with the rules applying to civil servants. Such allowances are paid to Board members at the highest civil service rates.

4.6     The nine alleged contraventions can be viewed as three groups of three.

          Dungarvan Conference (Allegations 1-3)

4.7     These allegations concerned Councillor Doherty's attendance at the Association of County and City Councils’ Annual Conference 2007 at the Park Hotel, Dungarvan, Co Waterford on 8, 9 and 10 March 2007. On 1 September 2007 (6 months after the conference) Councillor Doherty submitted a claim to Údarás na Gaeltachta for travelling and subsistence allowances as follows:

Thursday; 8 March 2007, 10.00am

Departed from home in Derrybeg, Donegal to go to Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

Saturday, 10 March 2007, 11.00pm

Arrived home to Derrybeg.

4.8     On 12 December 2007 (9 months after the conference) Councillor Doherty submitted a claim to the Council for travelling and subsistence allowances as follows:

Thursday; 8 March 2007, 9.00am

Departed from home in Derrybeg, Donegal to go to Dungarvan.

Saturday, 11 March 2007, 12.00 pm

Arrived home to Derrybeg.

4.9     His claims for travelling and subsistence to Údarás na Gaeltachta and to the Council were as follows:

          Claim made to Údarás na Gaeltachta on 1 September 2007

480 km x 2 (960 km) x €0.7832 per km =                                                        €751.87

2 overnights x €140.44 =                                                                                  €280.88

Total =                                                                                                          €1,032.75

          Donegal County Council claim submitted on 12 December 2007

448 km x 2 (896 km) x €0.8072 per km =                                                        €723.25

2 overnights x €140.44 =                                                                                  €280.88

1 daily subsistence (3 hour) x €16.95 =                                                              €16.95

Total =                                                                                                          €1,021.08

4.10   The conference attendance fee (€200) was paid directly by Donegal County Council to the conference organiser.

4.11   The Inquiry Officer, Mr Paddy Walsh, in the course of his preliminary inquiry into the matter, asked Councillor Doherty to explain how two claims each for over €1,000, made about 3 months apart, could be an error, inadvertent and unintentional. In response, Councillor Doherty stated:

"The claim was in error, inadvertent and unintentional. I can’t explain how it happened perhaps through negligence on my part or forgetfulness; but it did happen—the period seems short I accept but I cannot recall or remember or explain adequately how it did happen."

4.12   Councillor Doherty also stated:

“I brought the matter of the duplicate payment to the attention of Donegal County Council on 31/8/11. I enclosed with the letter a cheque to amount of €1,221.08 which included the conference fee, a copy of the claim form noted and marked duplicate. The cheque was cashed in September. I repaid the council because they were the last expenses received by me. I do not know how this duplicate claim could have happened but it may have been through misplaced, mislaid or lost documentation. I am not sure, but the error was inadvertent and unintentional.”

          Dundalk Conference/Furbo Meeting (Allegations 4-9)

4.13   These concern his attendance at a meeting of the Irish Central Border Area Network (ICBAN), at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dundalk, Co Louth on 20 November 2008 and his attendance at a meeting of Údarás na Gaeltachta in Furbo on the following day, 21 November 2008. Allegations 4 to 6 specifically concern the claims made to the Council and to Údarás na Gaeltachta. Allegations 7 to 9 concern solely his claim to Údarás na Gaeltachta for an overnight subsistence allowance for the night of 20/21 November 2008.

4.14   On 26 March 2009 (5 months after the meeting) Councillor Doherty submitted a claim for travelling and subsistence allowances to Údarás na Gaeltachta as follows:

Thursday, 20 November 2008, 4.00 pm

Departed from home in Derrybeg, Donegal to go to Údarás na Gaeltachta meeting in Galway.

Friday, 21 November 2008, 11.00 pm

Arrived home to Derrybeg.

4.15   The 11.00 pm time is not on the claim form but is stated in his letter of 4 October 2012 to the Council’s Ethics Registrar in response to the complaints made to the Council. Moreover in that letter, he stated that he had left home at 4.00 am on Friday, 21 November 2008, to travel to Furbo for the meeting of Údarás na Gaeltachta.

4.16   On 30 March 2009 (5 months after the conference and 4 days after the above claim made on 26 March 2009 to Údarás na Gaeltachta), Councillor Doherty submitted a claim for travelling and subsistence allowance to Donegal County Council as follows:

Thursday, 20 November 2008, 11.00 am

Departed from home in Derrybeg, Donegal to go to Dundalk, Co Louth.

Same day, 11.00 pm

Arrived home to Derrybeg.

4.17   His claims for travelling and subsistence allowances to the Council and to Údarás na Gaeltachta are as follows:

          Claim made to Údarás na Gaeltachta on 26 March 2009

288 km x 2 (576 km) x 0.3794 =                                                                      €218.53

1 overnight =                                                                                                    €145.32

Total =                                                                                                             €363.85

          Donegal County Council claim submitted on 30 March 2009

430 km x €0.6088 per km =                                                                             €261.78

1 daily subsistence (7 hour) x €33.61 =                                                              €33.61

Total =                                                                                                             €295.39

4.18   Councillor Doherty made the following statement to the Inquiry Officer, Mr Paddy Walsh, in the course of his preliminary inquiry into the matter:

“I did attend the ICBAN meeting in Dundalk on 20/11/08. I drove home after the meeting, arriving at approximately 11pm. I attended the Udaras meeting in Na Forbacha, Gaillimh 10am to 1pm. I returned home afterwards. The mix up in the dates was a simple mistake which I corrected. I always travelled home after all ICBAN meetings.

I did apologise to the council for these unintentional errors. I have always conducted my affairs private and public with honesty, fairly and truthfully. I do not know how I made this mistake and it certainly was not intentional.”

4.19   Councillor Doherty stated that he had in his career attended hundreds of conferences. He also stated that as a result of a due diligence exercise in 2011, he had gone over his own documentation, realised there was a double payment and repaid the County Council not only his travel and subsistence but also the conference fee itself.

4.20     The Ministerial Directions setting out the rules for councillors claiming travelling and subsistence expenses provide, inter alia, that a local authority shall not pay any travelling allowance to a member in respect of any journey or part of a journey in respect of which an allowance is paid by, or is payable by, or is claimed from, another public authority. The directions also provide that where a member who attends a meeting or conference where authorised to do so by the local authority returns to his or her official residence and travels from there on the same day to the same or another such meeting or conference, the total travelling and subsistence allowances to be paid shall be the lesser of either the amounts payable on the basis of the actual journeys and periods of absence or the amounts which would be payable if the member did not return to his or her official residence.