County councillor Seamus Walsh has hit out at media coverage this week of his role in two companies which organise seminars for local authority members, claiming there is nothing unethical in the enterprise.
Cllr Walsh was one of a number of councillors named in an Irish Independent report on councillors’ expenses this week due to his involvement in Ashford Building Services and Esperanza Enterprises, two companies which organise seminars on a range of issues which impact on the work of local representatives.
Cllr Walsh said the seminars were a necessary part of councillors’ work to keep them abreast of issues such as changes in planning policy and legislation, and were as relevant to the their work as conferences organised for teachers, solicitors, council officials, and other professions.
“They tried to say that I was unethical,” the Oughterard councillor told the Galway Advertiser this week. “The code of ethics says that we have to declare our interests and I have declared them. I have hidden nothing.
“The way they talked about it you’d swear I was some sort of criminal.
“I am a trained educator, I am tax compliant with audited accounts, it’s a professional business, and it hasn’t made any money.
I started the company because I saw a market there, and I have paid my bills. Because I have a bit of get up and go they’re trying to cast me as some kind of Hitler.”
Cllr Walsh said he began organising seminars for councillors because he found that some of the events taking place were not relevant, and decided to address specific issues which would impact on elected representatives. These included a review of changes to planning legislation and a day of workshops on ethics in public life.
Cllr Walsh pointed out that he was a teacher and engineer and was qualified to hold and speak at conferences related to development and other issues relevant to the work of local authority members.
“I have an honours diploma in education and I taught in school for five years,” he said.
“I have lectured for the VEC. I am a highly qualified educator.
“I taught for five years in Carraroe and we had three in-service training days a year delivered by teachers, and they didn’t write about that.”
Cllr Walsh said that the seminars are attended by both councillors and Oireachtas members, and speakers at these events include members of local and central Government and county managers.
“The first step I take is to inform each council in Ireland and the Oireachtas and ask each council if any of the councillors are interested in attending,” he explained. “They choose the seminars they are interested in, and by vote of the council they are allowed to attend. Once they register I am entitled to the fee, but I don’t bill for people who don’t attend.
“My work is published and is in the library of the Oireachtas for Oireachtas members to use as a reference.”
Cllr Walsh said he has not received a wage from the seminar companies to date. “They have not made money to pay me a wage yet,” he added.