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06 Oct 2022

Gardaí probe council’s purchase of mica houses

Senior officer from outside county investigating acquisition of five houses in Buncrana

'I cannot afford to be charity organisation' - An Crannla developer

The purchase of the houses has been the subject of an independent review

Gardaí have begun an investigation into Donegal County Council’s purchase of five houses in Buncrana which was the subject of an independent review earlier this year. 

A senior officer from outside the Donegal division has visited Inishowen in recent days as part of the probe.

Confirming the investigation to the Inish Times, a Garda spokesman said: “Gardaí are conducting an investigation into an alleged incident of fraud in the Donegal area. No further details are available at this time. Investigations are ongoing.”

The houses in the An Crannla estate tested positive for mica with a 15% ratio before the council acquired them for €600,000 in 2021. It is understood investigating gardaí visited the estate in Buncrana last week.

Donegal county councillor Frank McBrearty sent a file on the purchase of the houses to Garda commissioner Drew Harris in June this year. The then cathaoirleach of the council, Jack Murray, said in February he had requested gardaí to investigate the claims of “systemic corruption” within the council after receiving allegations in an email from Cllr McBrearty. At the time he said the allegations “were very serious and needed to be investigated fully”.

The then cathaoirleach of the council, Jack Murray, said in February he had requested gardaí to investigate the claims of “systemic corruption” within the council after receiving allegations in an email from Cllr McBrearty. At the time he said the allegations “were very serious and needed to be investigated fully”.

In February 2022, a Department of Housing spokesperson confirmed Donegal County Council had not told the department the houses had mica.

It said: “The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage was not aware of issues relating to mica in the properties referred to, when they were acquired by Donegal County Council.”

This failure was confirmed by an external review of the purchase commissioned by the council after acquisitions of “systemic corruption” within the council from Cllr McBrearty. The council welcomed the completed report in July this year as an exoneration of council staff from allegations of corruption. The report stated the review of the council’s files on the purchase had “not identified any documentary evidence of corruption, systemic corruption or corrupt behaviour”.

The review, carried out by consultants BDO Ireland, found that the written notification to the department on the condition of the five houses could have been qualified “and/or could have included the details of the geological tests the council had carried out in 2019”.

“Approval by the Department of Housing was granted on 9 October 2020 and was conditional on the council being satisfied as to the condition of the five houses, which they were, having commissioned the geological tests in 2019 and having been inspected by the Council,” the BDO report said.

“On 4 March 2021, the council sought approval for the drawdown of the funds for the purchase. As part of its submission process, the council stated on a form provided to the department that the houses were of ‘good condition, improvement works required’ which the council believed was consistent with its assessments carried out in 2019 and 2020.

“However, BDO believes that this statement could have been qualified by reference to the geological tests that had been conducted in 2019. The Department of Housing approved the purchase of the five houses, conditional upon the council being satisfied as to their condition.”

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