Limerick councillor cleared but expenses affair has ‘damaged’ Fine Gael

Mike Dwane

Reporter:

Mike Dwane

FINE Gael has confirmed it is taking no action against Cllr Pat Kennedy over thousands of euros he refunded to Limerick City Council and other bodies for mileage expenses claimed for a car that was off the road.

FINE Gael has confirmed it is taking no action against Cllr Pat Kennedy over thousands of euros he refunded to Limerick City Council and other bodies for mileage expenses claimed for a car that was off the road.

But the party has said the veteran politician’s “carelessness” in filling out expenses claims had damaged Fine Gael and added it was “mystified by Cllr Kennedy’s approach” when given the opportunity to correct the claims.

Disciplinary proceedings against Cllr Kennedy have resulted in no finding of wrongdoing and a spokesman said Fine Gael will be issuing no instruction to councillors whether or not they should support Cllr Kennedy’s bid to be elected Mayor of Limerick for a third time on June 25.

Cllr Kennedy was a Fine Gael mayor in 1974 and 1985 but quit the party after his failure to get on the ticket for the general election in 2002. Elected as an Independent in 2009, it was Cllr Kennedy’s decision to rejoin the party that delivered Fine Gael a slender majority on Limerick City Council. Under a deal agreed that year, he is due to be elected mayor again in two weeks.

But the expenses controversy has put that in some doubt. The party’s leader on the Council, Cllr Diarmuid Scully, this week called on Cllr Kennedy to give a full and detailed explanation in public of the expense claims.

“I have asked him to make a statement to try and put fears and questions to bed,” said Cllr Scully.

“The explanation that he has given to us verbally was that it was an incorrectly filled out expenses claim form; that there was nothing untoward; that all the expenses were properly paid and were refunded to avoid the appearance of anything wrong. If that is the case, there is no case to answer and everything is fine. But the best way of getting that out there is to provide all the facts.”

Commenting for the first time on the affair this week, Cllr Kennedy noted that he had been exonerated in a report by the city manager, which accepted the €1700 in expenses he returned to City Hall in respect of conferences attended in early 2010 were “an honest and genuine mistake”.

And Cllr Kennedy said he had also been cleared by Fine Gael. The party had examined not only expenses refunded to Limerick City Council put separate repayments to other bodies, including over €2800 to the Association of County and City Councils, the networking body for councillors nationally.

“In relation to Fine Gael, I have now been informed by Tom Curran, general secretary, Fine Gael national headquarters, in a letter dated June 11, 2012, that their investigatory committee has decided ‘not to impose any sanction’ against me ‘being prepared to accept the arguments which I put forward to the committee in my defence’,” Cllr Kennedy stated. He declined to make available the full text of the letter and would not comment beyond issuing the statement.

A spokesman for the party confirmed this Wednesday no action was being taken but regretted the damage caused.

“The party accepts Cllr Kennedy’s contention that the claim made was a single action and a one-off mistake. However, the party is in no doubt that damage has been done to the party and Cllr Kennedy on account of his carelessness in the matter.

“The party is not minded to impose any sanction, accepting the argument he put forward. However, this matter could have been avoided if he had dealt with the issue correctly in March 2010 or when given further opportunity to do so in April 2010. The party is mystified by Cllr Kennedy’s approach when given the opportunity to correct the claim,” the spokesman said.