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Council challenged on Shell community funds allocation

Áine Ryan - Mayo News

Corrib Community Investment Fund report shrouded in mystery

THE AUTHORSHIP of a detailed report, sent to Mayo County Council and community groups in Kilcommon, Erris, last year, about the multi-million-euro Corrib Gas Community Gain Investment Fund (CGFI) is shrouded in mystery.
The document strongly criticises Mayo County Council’s practices in disbursing the funds, which amount to €8.5 million over a five-year period. It even suggests the option of reporting the local authority to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation and the Standards in Public Office Commission.
The report, which has been seen by The Mayo News, was sent anonymously, however, the county council in good faith responded to all the local groups listed at the end of the report.
In a response to The Mayo News, the local authority says it has adhered to proper procedure in the allocation of the funds and categorically refutes the document’s claims to the contrary.
The CGFI is funded by Shell E&P Ireland and administered by Mayo County Council (MCC). It was one of the 58 conditions stipulated by An Bord Pleanála as part of the planning permission granted in January 2011 for the final part of the pipeline.

THE document – titled ‘Draft Report on The Relationship Between The Beneficiaries Of The Community Gain Investment Fund and The Trustee’ – states on its title-page that it includes ‘Recommendations for Trust Fund Constitution and Provision of Financial Information’.  
In its terms of reference it states that the ‘need to investigate the management of the Community Gain Investment Fund (CGIF) became apparent after the residents of Cill Chomáin (the core area for investment and the main beneficiaries) realised that the Trustee [MCC] was awarding/pledging payments from the Fund to itself.”
Continuing, it asserts that: “The aim of the report is to begin a process of transparency surrounding the governance of the CGIF and ultimately the agreement of a fund constitution so that all parties may be satisfied that the intentions of the Board are being satisfactorily implemented.”
It argues later that the report had been prepared ‘for the purpose of public consultation and for interpretation by other bodies should the need arise’.  
Referring to ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ gains made by the trustee (MCC), it cites as an example the funding of infrastructure such as a group water scheme as having ‘a consequential benefit to the Trustee, as the Trustee was already obliged to carry out the work’.
The report argues that the fiduciary duty of the trustee is to the beneficiary, that is the community, and not to itself (MCC).
“There was no direction by An Bord Pleanála describing how the Council could award payments to itself from this fund, and the Council were to receive money in trust only. Any benefit received by the Council must therefore be shown to be received without prejudice to their responsibility to act with the sole benefit of the community of Cill Chomáin and Erris in mind. The Beneficiaries have expressed their opinion that the management of their money must be documented in order for the Trustee to retain the confidence of the Community,” it continues.  
Among a list of 14 questions, it asks: “Does the Council agree that the provision of drinking water should be considered a public right, rather than a ‘substantial community gain’?”
It also notes that: “The Trustee appears to have provided itself significant sums of money directly from the Trust Fund in addition to the 10 percent fee it has already awarded itself.”
The report proposes the formation of a Trust Fund Executive Committee, saying: “The Beneficiaries recommend that an Executive Committee be formed using the existing Fund staff. However, the important recommendation is that the Committee must also have representatives from the Community and Shell.”
It explains that this committee would have no power to make funding allocations but would rather ensure the rules of the trust were not breached. In its conclusion it adds: “The Beneficiaries will not hesitate to request a governance investigation by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation and the Standards in Public Office Commission. Furthermore, the Beneficiaries are aware of their rights to seek a Trustee removal injunction and a surcharge to return the fund to a value determined by a court, should any misappropriation of funds become apparent.”

The trustee – council response
IN a response to a series of Mayo News questions about the report, the county council refutes any inference that the administration of the fund has not been carried out according to the conditions set out by An Bord Pleanála.
County Secretary John Condon confirmed that the document ‘was submitted to the Council on the 19th April, 2013’ and adds that the ‘author is not identified and the Council is not aware, of who prepared or sent the document’. He also stated that the council responded to the 25 named Cill Chomáin organisations listed at the back of the report.
“It should be noted that a number of the groups who received a reply contacted the Council subsequently, to advise that they were not involved in its preparation and did not agree with or support its content,” Mr Condon said in a written statement.
He continued: “The Community Gain Investment Fund is focused on addressing the social and economic needs of the Kilcommon Parish. An extensive list of projects have been approved by the fund, the majority of which were proposed and delivered by Community Groups in the Parish. The Council has worked closely with many of these Groups, where the projects involve public infrastructure improvements.”  
He also attached a list of ‘all the projects approved in Kilcommon and the more significant community based projects’.
Refuting the claims, he said the fund was ‘set up and administered in accordance with the conditions of An Bord Pleanála under which it was established and the Council refutes any inference to the contrary’. He added that its administration was overseen by county councillors in the Belmullet Electoral Area as well as the local community through the Corrib Gas Project Monitoring Committee.

The councillor
ERRIS Sinn Féin Cllr Rose Conway-Walsh confirmed she was ‘aware there is an anonymous document circulating regarding the administration of the Community Gain Investment Fund’ but noted that she was ‘not aware of any specific issues regarding the fund’.  
“I do think it is important that there is total transparency and fairness around its administration.  Priority must be given to projects benefiting the Parish of Kilcommon and the communities most affected by the refinery and the pipe line. It could be said that some of the projects that receive funding should be provided by the local authority with central government funding. However, the reality is that the basic needs of many communities not least Kilcommon and the wider Erris area have not been met by successive governments over the decades, and one cannot blame these communities for availing of the opportunity to address these deficits regardless of the source.”
She suggested that it ‘may be timely for an evaluation, including audit involving all stakeholders, to be carried out to ensure the objectives of the fund are being met’.

The community member
THE Cathaoirleach of Coiste na Seanscoile, Micheál Ó Seighin, also confirmed that he received a letter from Mayo County Council thanking him ‘for the submission issued to MCC by me jointly with others, in relation to the management and administration of the Corrib Gas Investment Fund’.
“The letter from MCC explained the position of MCC regarding the fund and the reasons for the practices followed in the allocation of funds. I was somewhat surprised, as I or my Committee had no knowledge of such a submission […] not at any time had we taken part with other un-named organisations in the drafting of such,” Mr Ó Seghin said.
He continued: “I immediately contacted the fund administrators (MCC) and learned that the so-called submission was forwarded to MCC under the name of multiple organisations from this parish, including the organisation I represent, and did not in fact have a signature appended, and that I was not alone in protesting at the inclusion of an organisation in this lobbying effort of anonymous origin. As MCC had now responded to the organisations appended, they must each in turn have assumed that the named organisations had all supported the missive.”
Mr Ó Seighin observed that the parish Of Kilcommon received €90,000 in 2013, while €140,000 was paid in the same period to other areas, ‘some as far away as the Moy Search and Rescue Service’, which is based in Ballina.
Meanwhile Shell confirmed it was sent a copy of the report in April 2013.

Projects funded
Groups funded by the CGIF include:
Three Kilcommon national schools
Three Kilcommon playgrounds
Glenamoy Women’s Group
Pullathomas Facilities Management

Posted Date: 
6 February 2014