MEATH COUNTY manager Tom Dowling has said he has “every confidence” in the council’s planning department.
Mr Dowling denied any wrongdoing by the local authority during a heated council meeting debate where he was asked if anybody was benefiting from the council accepting post-dated cheques on planning applications.
The controversy was raised by newly elected Fine Gael councillor Sirena Campbell, who said she was contacted by a journalist who had alleged that cheques related to planning applications were being put “in a drawer”.
“I am not seeking to impugn the reputation of the county manager or any officials, nor am I acting on a hunch,” she said.
Ms Campbell spoke after receiving the official response to her question, which confirmed the council sometimes accepted post-dated cheques. She had asked the manager was he aware of any council official or member of the council “benefiting from this facility?”
Shane Cassells (FF) accused her of “media spin” and of trying to suggest “the boys are on the take”.
The council chairman, Willie Carey (FG), adjourned the meeting for a short break to restore order.
When it resumed Mr Dowling said that “unfortunately” whether Ms Campbell had intended to or not, she had raised allegations “about an official benefiting or acting improperly. [This] is of great concern and I have to ask her to substantiate or withdraw her allegations.”
In response, she said she owed the chamber an apology if she made any “suggestion of impropriety, nor do I suggest such impropriety occurred”, and she wanted her comments withdrawn.
Mr Dowling said if there were substantiated allegations they would be investigated. He said he had “every confidence in our planning department”.
Ms Campbell raised the issue by asking if any cheques made out to the council for planning or service fees had remained uncashed for any considerable period of time.
In a written response, the council said cheques were receipted, batched and lodged with the council’s treasurer within two working days.
It said it could also agree to a schedule of payments for a development and “it would not be unusual for an agreement to recognise the convenience of phased payments, and in such instances post- dated cheques may be lodged with the planning authority who will present them for payment in due course”.
The council also said there were eight developments where cheques “remained on hand for specific reasons”. These cheques totalled €1,040,301, while nearly €44,000 were cheques that had bounced. In all, some €54,900 remained outstanding and the debts were being pursued, the meeting was told.