Chief executive of Mayo County Council, Peter Hynes, read out a hard hitting statement at the January meeting of the local authority in relation to the recent Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO ) investigation into himself and councillors Frank Durcan and Cyril Burke — before excusing himself from the meeting when the reports were discussed by the councillors.
Mr Hynes was cleared of any wrongdoing by SIPO, but there were findings made against both of the councillors who were found to have breached the Code of Conduct for elected members. The investigation related to attempts to rezone lands owned by Cllr Durcan on the outskirts of Castlebar and retraction of Freedom of Information requests he submitted to the council, and a series of conversations between the two councillors that took place in 2014.
In his statement, Mr Hynes welcomed that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing, saying: "I welcome the fact that, as I expected the Standards in Public Office Commission has found not a single shred of evidence of any wrong doing on my part. I welcome the findings in my case and my complete vindication. The reports also confirm that the planning process operated by this council is robust."
The chief executive then took aim at Cllr Durcan saying: "It is a matter of regret that Mayo County Council has yet again been the subject of national headlines because of another melodrama instigated by Cllr Durcan. This latest saga has again wasted time, resources, effort and energy.
"Cllr Durcan's disruptive and abusive behaviour, featuring vindictive personalised attacks going back many years, has impeded the work of this council. The sanctions for such continuous disruptive behaviour need to be urgently reviewed.
"Some people believe in Karma, and there is at least some poetic justice in this case in that Cllr Durcan's own actions have backfired and have come back to haunt him. This situation is perfectly summed up by the old Irish adage, 'Fileann and feal ar an bhfeallaire [the treachery returns to the betrayer].
After making his statement, Mr Hynes left the meeting, passing on his role to Mayo County Council director of services, John Condon, for the rest of the meeting.
Before dealing with each of the three reports on the three individuals — Fianna Fáil whip, Cllr Damien Ryan, asked for confirmation that the council was able to deal with the reports as there was still a time period available to those affected to launch a judicial review of the findings. Mr Condon informed him that the council could deal with the reports at that time and if a judicial review was launched and changed any of the outcomes — the council could deal with it again at a later date. Cllr Burke told the meeting that he would not be seeking a judicial review, while Cllr Durcan said that he was still considering one.
Dealing with the report on Cllr Durcan, Mr Condon told the meeting that the report had made two findings against Cllr Durcan — the first on page 35 of the report, which found he failed to maintain integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest; the second finding on page 41 of the report found him 'to have not had regard to and be guided by code of conduct for councillors'.
Mr Condon had earlier circulated page 40 of the report, with a paragraph highlighted which, he said: ".. shows it was the commission's view that this councillor made the contraventions in pursuit of personal gain and [that paragraph that has been circulated and highlighted] gives details of the personal gain that the commission believes was being pursued and the extent of the personal gain which is very substantial. The commission also having found against the councillor, have decided it is a serious contravention."
Mr Condon went on to outline that there is a scale in which the commission makes findings, the lowest point on the scale being inadvertent or an honest mistake, then reckless, the third highest point being negligent, and the highest level being serious or intentional. The commission decided that both of its findings against Cllr Durcan were at the highest point of the scale.
Cllr Durcan, responding to what was outlined in the chamber, said that the findings of the report were "the greatest travesty of justice he had ever witnessed" and "I am completely and utterly innocent of all the findings found against me."
He went on to criticise the decision of the commission to hold the hearings in private — thus not being able to refer to anything that was said in the hearing to defend himself, other than what was contained in the final report. He asked "why was it held in private, who wanted to hide what?" and added: "We have to bring it all to the grave with us — what was discussed in that room over six days."
Fianna Fáil whip, Damien Ryan, told the meeting the council had to consider the report and decide on what action to take and he said he took no pleasure in doing so, but in relation to Cllr Durcan he proposed that: "This council accept the findings of the report and condemn these findings in the strongest possible terms." The proposal was seconded by Fine Gael whip, Cllr Jarlath Munnelly.
When it came to the report on Cllr Burke, the Fine Gael councillor excused himself from the chamber for the discussion. The findings on Cllr Burke were the same as against Cllr Durcan — however in the scale of seriousness there was a different judgement, with Cllr Burke being found to be reckless (the second level on the four point scale ) rather than intentional (as Cllr Durcan ) and there was no evidence he was seeking personal gain.
In recommending a course of action in relation to Cllr Burke, Cllr Ryan proposed that: "This council accept the report, note its findings and strongly admonish the member for his conduct," which was seconded by Cllr Munnelly for his side of the house.
In a statement issued by Cllr Burke on Monday evening, Cllr Burke said: "Firstly I am delighted that the serious contraventions of the Code of Conduct for Councillors alleged against me were not proven and I have been cleared in this regard. In fact the findings of the Standards in Public Office Commission confirm that I never set out to gain in any way financially, politically or otherwise. I had no motive to gain personally. In other words the Commission rejected the allegations that I had acted in a corrupt fashion.
"I also want to point out that these allegations against me had already previously been investigated and cleared through our criminal justice system by the Gardaí and DPP, who concluded that I had no case to answer as regards claims of corruption made against me.
"I am extremely disappointed that SIPO made findings against me of two more minor contraventions although I note it is acknowledged that my contraventions were unintentional and minor. I have to say that I cannot agree that the evidence adduced supported any such findings.
"The Freedom of Information requests which are at the centre of the allegations against me had nothing to do with me whatsoever and I had absolutely nothing to gain from their withdrawal. No evidence was shown to contradict this. I want to make it very clear that that my sole interest in the re-zoning proposition was the potential to develop a jobs opportunity for the town of Castlebar. As I pointed out earlier SIPO’s findings actually acknowledged no benefit whatsoever personally to me."
Cllr Gerry Ginty told the meeting that he accepted the findings of the commission, but he does not see any difference between the two people who had findings made against them. He thought "it was ill advised of the chief executive to make and attack one councillor who was involved in it without having anything to say about the other. He also objected to the document distributed by Mr Condon to the meeting saying: "I read this report, we got the report to read and thank God I might have only got as far as national school, but I learned to read in that time and I am able to read a report and I don't need anything underlined in yellow to make me understand, but there are a lot of other parts of that report that could be underlined and underlined in red maybe and given to the council."