‘I have nothing to hide’

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Independent City Councillor Dick Roche has admitted that his expenses for 2012 have been referred to the Gardaí for further investigation.

In a frank interview with The Munster Express, Cllr Roche said he wanted to put on record the circumstances surrounding the incident – and to make it clear to members of the public that he had ‘nothing to hide’.

The case first came to light last Monday week at a meeting of the City Council, during City/County Manager Michael Walsh’s presentation of a statutory report into the local authority’s finances for 2012 by the Local Government Audit Service.

Mr Walsh said the expenses query in question did not concern a “massively significant amount of money” but did confirm that the case had been referred to Gardaí.

The Manager acknowledged that a number of Councillors had questioned him about the case but said he was prohibited from giving any further details about the case because ‘due process had to be observed’.

Since then Cllr Roche, who represents Waterford City North, contacted The Munster Express and requested that he be given the opportunity to give his account of the incident in question.

Cllr Roche said the issue related to expenses claimed for two conferences in January 2012, one in Portlaoise and the second a week later in Ennis, the latter of which did not go ahead as planned.

“The procedure is you book for your conferences in advance and fill out a sheet to claim for your expenses.

“So I went to the conference in Portlaoise and when I came back, instead of going into the office twice, I filled out the form for both conferences and handed them in. I found out later that week that the second conference had been cancelled and I was paid for conferences a few weeks later. I wasn’t called in [to the Council] then. I was called in about 18 months later.

“As soon as I realised what had happened, I wrote to the Council and explained what had happened and I asked the Council could I pay back the money.

“And I asked them how I would go about paying it back. At that stage they said they would be back to me about that. A lot of time went by before I heard from anyone again and then they said they were investigating all of the conferences for that year.”

Cllr Roche said he has been asked about seven conferences in all but confirmed that he had attended all but one of these – that being the cancelled conference in Ennis back in January 2012.

“I’m stating that with regard the other six conferences that they’re talking about, I booked in to the conferences, I went to the conferences and I claimed for the conferences. For me, the issue is around the one conference back in January 2012, for which I tried to pay back the money.”

Cllr Roche further confirmed that he has had no contact with the Gardaí since the issue was referred by the City Council.

“I haven’t been contacted by the Gardaí but I want to state that I have no problem speaking to them – or anyone else – about this. I have no problem stating my case anywhere. I don’t feel I did anything wrong. The worst I did was to be scatty about that money by leaving it in my account for so long. I tried to pay it back.”

Cllr Roche went on to point out that he holds a number of voluntary positions on local boards, but the only payment he receives is his monthly allowance from Waterford City Council of €1697.

“Any board I’m on is voluntary and I’ve no problem being upfront with anybody about payment I receive for my role as a Councillor. After deductions, I get a cheque for €1697 every month. That’s my only source of income, out of which I pay my mortgage and everything else.

“When I was elected to the Council in 2009, I was the only Councillor at that time that wasn’t elected onto a position which had a stipend or expenses involved.

“There’s a provision in the budget every year of €3,300 for training, conferences and information seminars. For the first year and a half, I didn’t claim any conference expenses because I didn’t go to any conferences.

“The first conference I went to was a planning conference because planning was something I needed a better grip on. I do sit voluntary on a number of boards and I don’t receive anything for that. I don’t mean to be cribbing about it, I just want to make it clear to people what I do and don’t get.”

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