BIRD’S VIEWAn aerial view of the Murrisk to Bertra section of the Clew Bay Trail, facing Murrisk. It’s the only one of three sections of greenways between Murrisk and Louisburgh where work is allowed to continue, following misrepresentations by Mayo County Council.Peak Conor McKeown
Department confirms MCC an outlier for funding shortfalls
No other local authority in the county has had to repay the volume of funding to the Department of Rural and Community Development as Mayo County Council has done in recent months.
Last December, the authority was forced to return 1.09 million euros of Department funding after it emerged it had falsely claimed the projects had been completed. In some cases, the projects had not even started.
The council also came close to losing an additional €1.07m in funding for other projects they said were completed but weren’t. However, the Department allows the council to carry out these projects under strict conditions and deadlines. With regard to these projects, the council was hit with a penalty of 15% of the funding, or €161,400.
It all started in 2020 when a Department investigation found that a greenway bridge in Achill, which Mayo County Council said was complete and had raised £200,000 in funding from it had not even not started yet. Subsequent investigations revealed a total of ten non-compliant projects, including sections of the Clew Bay Trail between Murrisk and Louisburgh.
In response to questions from The Mayo News about the level of refunds and penalties imposed on Mayo County Council, the department said it carried out annual inspection programs of funding provided to local authorities through its various programs and diets.
The ministry said the issues “generally relate to areas such as procurement, lack of clarity regarding matching funding and missing documentation”.
“Many of these issues are resolved through follow-up engagement with the relevant local authority, and any funding returned would be on a lower scale than the funding returned by Mayo County Council in this case. Inspections and checks provide the Ministry with assurance that the funding provided is appropriately managed by grant recipients and that funded projects are carried out as agreed,” they said.
The Mayo County Council projects in question have all been funded under the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme (ORIS).
Since the news broke last December, Mayo has been excluded from the Department’s past five funding rounds, under a range of programs including LIS Road Funding, the Regeneration and Rural Development Fund, the towns and villages renewal programme, the CLÁR program and ORIS.
“The scale of what happened in Mayo is unprecedented,” Cllr Peter Flynn told The Mayo News. “You might have a certain amount of funding drawdown before a project is complete with a manager confident that it will be completed in a few weeks. I don’t have a major difficulty with that. However, claiming funding for projects that you say have been completed and haven’t even started, like a bridge at Achill and a whole section of Greenway along the south side of Clew Bay, are not happening anywhere,” Cllr Flynn added.
Flynn has been one of the most outspoken members on the issue since advisers were first briefed last December. Investigations began in March 2020 and Cllr Flynn takes issue with the way it was handled throughout, including advisers ‘kept in the dark’.
“As an adviser, we depend a lot on officials who give us good advice and help us. We can’t be experts on everything, so we turn to the executive for grants, legal advice and more. It’s gone out the window now. Officials lied to us for at least a year about this whole process.
“If I were in the department’s shoes, could I really trust the executive of Mayo County Council to tell us the truth after all of this?” The answer is no.
“We participated in site visits and discussions with landowners about this route (Clew Bay Trail) while the investigation was ongoing. At no time were we told there was a problem.
He also criticized some advisers who he said did not take the issue seriously enough.
“Councillors saying this is happening in other counties and the complaints are exaggerated does little to give the department confidence that the councilors are ready to get to the bottom of it. This is such a serious issue and needs to be taken much more seriously than some advisers have taken it. »
Mayo County Council hopes the department will allow the council to access funding from this month.
In response to questions from The Mayo News last month, the department said access to its funding programs would be made available “once the department is satisfied with the level of assurance provided by the improved procedures and reviews that ‘he receives from Mayo County Council’.
Last Friday, they said the position remained the same.
More at mayonews.ie
Looking for the Clew Bay Trail
Where it all began – Achill’s Ghost Bridge