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Westmeath County Council

Local Authority: Westmeath County Council

Issue: Council theft

In 2017, it emerged that over €3,000 was "unaccounted for" at Athlone Marina, a facility operated by Westmeath County Council.

And while an employee was dismissed over the missing money, ultimately, the Director of Public Prosecutions directed that there should be no prosecution in the case.

In recent years, the marina has been the subject of several reports, which uncovered poor practices and a lack of oversight concerning its income.

Early warning signs were missed.

A 2013 report from an internal auditor revealed that an employee kept cash from the marina in their home – something that "greatly" surprised the auditor following her site visit, who recommended that "under no circumstances is cash to be held by staff in their own home."

This auditor also said that management should consider installing a facility for debit and credit cards at the marina "to reduce the amount of cash transactions."

RTÉ Investigates asked the council if this recommendation was acted up. The council said that the 2013 report was not, in fact, an audit but was an "incomplete Cash Count report, which was prepared by the Internal Auditor, but which was never finalised."

Because the internal auditor went on maternity leave shortly after she visited the marina, her report was not circulated or submitted to the council's audit committee, a subsequent audit stated.

The council told RTÉ Investigates that "As the Cash Count report was not finalised, the recommendations in the report did not materialise for consideration until 2016."

It added that it installed a pay and display machine at the marina in August 2016 and that no cash "has been accepted since this date."

But the horse had already bolted by this stage.

In May 2016, a staff member at the Athlone Municipal District noticed that there had been no cash lodgements from the marina since October 2015.

An internal audit subsequently followed.

This found that the marina’s income was almost €46,000 in 2013, which fell to €26,000 in 2015 – a drop of more than 40%. "The fact that this occurred without being highlighted and examined, for an explanation and possible corrective action, suggests a lack of monitoring and examination of income at the Marina," the internal audit said.

"It is obvious there was no supervision or oversight of income-related matters at the Marina," the audit concluded.

A separate council report later found that €3,305 of the marina’s income was unaccounted for, relating a period in April and May 2016.

This report stated that the District Manager at Athlone Municipal District "could not definitively name any single person as being responsible for the unaccounted sum and recommended that no further action be taken on this matter."

However, this recommendation was not heeded.

The 2017 Local Government Audit of Westmeath County Council stated that in September 2017, the council informed the Gardaí of "financial discrepancies" at a council facility.

The audit noted, "Disciplinary proceedings against the employee were initiated, and the disciplinary report recommendation that the employment be terminated was accepted with effect from 4 January 2018."

But according to records released through freedom of information, in 2019, the Director of Public Prosecutions said that the case would not be prosecuted.

The council also told RTÉ Investigates that "the standard of management and supervision at the Marina did not meet the standards expected or required in Westmeath County Council," but added that the measures had been put in place to prevent a recurrence.

It also said that the "matter was reported to An Garda Síochána and a disciplinary process was undertaken which resulted in the dismissal of an employee."

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