Macroom councillor admits falsely claiming expenses

Wednesday 16 January 2013 23.50
Pat Melia resigned from Fianna Fáil during the summer
Pat Melia resigned from Fianna Fáil during the summer

A Macroom town councillor has been fined €500 after he pleaded guilty to falsely claiming conference expenses.

Macroom District Court was told that Pat Melia, 51, a local town councillor, with an address at Ard na Gréine, Macroom, had claimed €552.26 for attending a three-day conference on Water Reform at the Galway Bay Hotel between 13-15 April last year.

However, he returned home the same day and later told his fellow councillors at a meeting that "a lot of it went over his head".

Cllr Melia was a member of the Fianna Fáil party at the time of the offence. He resigned from the party during the summer.

Following a complaint, he was arrested in May 2012 and fully admitted to gardaí what he had done.

The court was told that five gardaí had worked on the investigation.

Solicitor Sean Cahill told the court that what his client had done was a complete and utter act of stupidity, but was not pre-meditated.

He said the council operated an unvouched expenses system and while his client was entitled to claim mileage and some subsistence, he admitted falsely claiming two overnight stays to the value of €218.

Mr Cahill handed that sum of money into the court on behalf of his client in repayment.

He said Cllr Melia, who is originally from Monasterevin in Co Kildare, had registered for the conference on Friday 13 April, but could not get a bed because the Labour Party Conference was on the same weekend.

He planned to sleep in his car but the weather was not good and so he returned home, planning to come back the following day.

However, a family issue arose and he could not return.

Several character references were handed into the court, as well as two GP letters, which Judge Patrick McNulty noted outlined the stress and anxiety caused to both Cllr Melia and his wife because of what he had done.

An application by his solicitor for the Probation Act to be applied was declined by Judge James McNulty.

He said he could not treat the theft as a minor matter or a thing of no consequence, and while the amount involved was relatively insignificant, the implications of what he did were very significant.

The judge noted a number of mitigating factors, including the councillor's full co-operation, his guilty plea and that he has paid full restitution.

Judge McNulty said Cllr Melia had lowered himself in the esteem of his fellow citizens by reason of what occurred and said it cannot be much fun to stand in district court pleading guilty to a theft offence.

He said Cllr Melia will have to suffer the embarrassment and the seriousness of a theft conviction into the future and all of this is part of the punishment.

He fined him €500, with seven days in prison if he fails to pay.

Cllr Melia has lived in Macroom since 2000 and was elected to Macroom Town Council in June 2009.