Meath County Council has blasted a recent article in the Village Magazine relating to the long running dispute between the council and plant hire operator Paddy Sheils from Duleek.
Mr Sheils has fought a prolonged battle to recover what he claims are millions of euro in losses and damages caused by former employees who set up a company using his business name and equipment
Sheils of P Sheils Plant Hire (PSPH) has claimed that three former employees established a company also called PSPH, in 2008, to supply customers, including Meath County Council, with road digging, maintenance, and other services using his equipment.
One former employee, Siobhan Ryan, pleaded guilty in the District Court in 2014 to offences related to the fraud. Another former employee, David O’Donoghue, was acquitted following a jury trial in 2016. The charges against a third, Sinead McNamara, were withdrawn.
The complaint by Sheils has been the subject of an investigation by the Garda and by the local authority but he has never received compensation from Meath County Council for his alleged losses.
In their current edition, the Village magazine headline states ‘Garda Investigation did not have FOI material’ and the story below displays a variety of correspondence released to it by MCC under Freedom Of Information.
Now in an internal email sent to all councillors by MCC by Robert Collins the Senior Executive Officer for Corporate Affairs, and seen by Meath Live, the local authority has hit back at the article.
The email reads, ‘Dear Member, By way of an up-date, please find attached an article from the latest edition of Village Magazine concerning Patrick Sheils and his company. This matter has been the subject of previous articles by Village Magazine. You may remember that this matter was the subject of an investigation by An Garda Síochána and a number of Mr. Sheils’ former employees were brought to trial in 2014 and follow-up criminal prosecutions ensued.
‘The Council co-operated fully with the Garda authorities during the course of this investigation which did not, to the best of the Council’s knowledge, identify any inappropriate actions by the Council or its personnel.
‘The documents referred to in this article were released by the Council on January 14th, on foot of an FoI request. Village Magazine made a number of unsolicited contacts with various staff members mentioned in the documents and did not approach the Council formally for a response until Wednesday, February 17th, a couple of hours before the magazine went to print.
‘The query from Village Magazine: Can you confirm whether the FOI material recently released in relation to P Sheils Plant Hire (FOI Request 138/20) was provided to the Garda during its fraud investigation into the former employees of that company in 2010 and subsequently?
‘The Council responded in writing as follows on February 19th: Meath County Council cooperated fully with An Garda Síochána on this matter. An Garda Síochána had access to all of the records that the Council held, relevant to its investigation. It appears that the magazine had gone to print before the Council had the opportunity to issue its response.
‘The assertions in the article that Council documents were withheld from the Garda fraud investigation are completely rejected and are without any foundation. An Garda Siochana had full access to all Council documentation during the investigation’.
A source told us, ‘It would be common journalistic practice to speak to any individual personally if they were to be named in a story, they have to be afforded the right to reply.’
Meath County Council and the Village magazine have been contacted for comment.