At yesterday’s monthly meeting of Mayo county council, elected councillors condemned the actions of their two colleagues – cllrs Cyril Burke and Frank Durcan as exposed in a recent SIPO report, but say they have no statutory powers to impose sanctions on them.
The SIPO investigation centred on recordings and texts messages between the two councillors in which they discussed rezoning land owned by Mr Durcan.
In return for the zoned development land, councillor Durcan was allegedly asked by Mr Burke to withdraw Freedom of Information requests he submitted seeking information on a senior Mayo County Council official.
SIPO found that both councillors were in contravention of the code of conduct for politician.
The findings against Cllr Burke have now been referred to Fine Gael’s disciplinary committee
Frank Durcan said yesterday he is considering a judicial review of the findings against him
While the Chief Executive of Mayo County Council Peter Hynes, exonerated in the SIPO report yesterday launched a scathing attack on cllr Durcan.
Before discussion on the SIPO findings officially got underway yesterday, Mr Hynes read a statement to councillors in which he made a scathing attack on cllr Durcan and then absented himself from the proceedings and John Condon took over as the acting CEO.
Part of the startement read “it is a matter of considerable regret that Mayo County has yet again been the subject of national headlines because of another melodramas instigated by Cllr Durcan. This latest saga has again wasted time, resources, effort and energy”.
The councillors than adjourned for ten minutes and many expressed privately surprise and amazement that the CEO had focused his statement completely on Frank Durcan with no reference to cllr Burke.
John Condon than took over proceedings.
He began by handing out a one page extract from the SIPO report where he had highlighted a paragraph from the report that again referred to Frank Durcan.
Immediately Independent cllr Gerry Ginty said he objected to Mr Condon highlighting any part of the SIPO report – saying cllrs could read for themselves.
Mr Condon argued it was relevant.
Basically John Comdon outlined the findings against both cllrs but stated to cllrs that there were “degrees” or “levels of blame” attached to each of the findings against both cllrs and pointed out that cllr Durcan was found by SIPO to have been acting “intentionally” in both of the two findings against him, while cllr Burke was found to have acted “recklessly” in the findings against him.
Mr Condon explained that in the SIPO report a cllr could have been found to act along a scale of blame – the least offensive being an “honest mistake”, then “recklessly”, “negligent” comes next, and finally “intentional”.
The FF and FG whips on the authority Damien Ryan and Jarlath Munnelly both spoke briefly on all three SIPO findings. They welcomed the exoneration of the CEO Peter Hynes and condemned the actions of both Cllr Burke and Cllr Durcan.
Cyril Burke absented himself from the meeting after saying he has no intention of seeking a judicial review. He did not think it would be fair or proper for him to do so. However, he said he was “extremely disappointed that two minor findings against me have been upheld by SIPO” and that he has no right of appeal."
According to today’s Irish Independent, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has described himself as “concerned” about findings made against a party councillor by the State’s ethic watchdog.
In his first comments on the case, Mr Varadkar said he was “obviously” aware of the situation and the SIPO findings have been referred to Fine Gael’s disciplinary committee.
“The party’s disciplinary committee will give him a fair hearing and decide whether or not he can continue to be a Fine Gael member and continue to have the Fine Gael whip,” the Taoiseach said.
Asked whether this meant, Cllr Burke may not be allowed stand for the party in May’s election, he replied: “Decisions on who runs for the party are made at conventions. In order to run at convention you have to be a party member. So the disciplinary committee will hear the case and decide what sanctions are appropriate.”
Councillor Durcan, in a passionate contribution yesterday evening in Aras an Chontae, described the SIPO hearing as “a travesty of justice.” He added: “I am completely and utterlty innocent of all charges against me."
Councillor Durcan said he wanted to know why the SIPO hearing was held in private.
Mr. Condon replied that the commission is entitled in law to hold the hearing in private.
Councillor Durcan: “We have to bring it all to the grave. We can never disclose what happened in that room over six days. I don't think that is democracy in any shape for form."
Mr. Condon told the meeting that Councillor Durcan had told the commission he was innocent but they still had made two serious findings against him.
Councillor Gerry Murray (SF) said he would like to know what the proceedings had cost the local authority and SIPO.
Councillor Durcan explained that he was seeking legal advice as to whether or not he should seek a judicial review.