quote:Jail fails to halt 'Stroke' politics Fintan O'Toole
You'd have to be an extremely sad political anorak to be able to name the chairman of the Limerick Prison visiting committee. It's not a job that attracts much attention. Which is a pity, because there's a really radical experiment being conducted at the moment.
The chairman of the Limerick Prison visiting committee is, in fact, a prisoner. It's an extraordinarily bold concept, especially since the chairman of the Limerick committee is incarcerated in another prison altogether - Castlerea.
It's not clear how he combines his day job as a jailbird with his duties to the convicts of Limerick. Especially since he already has another job as a member of Galway County Council.
The man in question is, of course, Michael "Stroke" Fahy. The nickname says it all: as the late lamented Brendan O hEithir kindly informed us in 1987, when the Stroke was running in the general election, "for the benefit of readers in Dublin 4 and other genteel parts, stroking in this context has nothing to do with foreplay".
He is what Gordon Brown called Margaret Thatcher - a conviction politician. In his case, the conviction, last March, was on seven counts under the Larceny Act and the Theft and Fraud Offences Act, including false accounting and attempting to make a gain by deception. He defrauded the same county council of which he is a member - and the community he represents in Ardrahan - by having fencing intended for the Community Involvement Scheme erected around his own land and then submitting false invoices for €15,000, which wrongly implicated an innocent contractor.
In sentencing Fahy to 12 months in prison, Judge Raymond Groarke pointed out that the Stroke had not just committed serious crimes, but had harmed his fellow members of county councils: "you have insulted and sullied the office and position of county councillor". His actions had "belittled and rendered suspect" all other hardworking councillors who went about their work diligently and honestly. He also tried to do real harm to council workers and officials, by falsely implicating them in his crimes.
Yet, astonishingly, Michael Fahy is still a member of Galway County Council and his fellow councillors have gone out of their way to keep him there. What's happened since Fahy's conviction is a microcosm of the way Irish political culture continues to tolerate corruption.
Within days of the Stroke's conviction, he was at the annual conference of the Association of County and City Councils in Dungarvan. After he went to jail, special arrangements were made at Castlerea prison to allow him to vote as a county councillor in the Seanad elections. The Irish Prison Service still lists him as chairman of the Limerick Prison visiting committee. And, most bizarrely of all, Galway County Council, the body he defrauded, sullied, belittled and rendered suspect, has twisted itself into shapes that would dazzle a Chinese contortionist to keep him in office.
Two weeks ago, Galway County Council held a special meeting to deal with two urgent matters. One was the ending of the Shannon/Heathrow service. The other, which was accorded the same status, was listed on the agenda as "Request by Cllr M Fahy pursuant to Section 18 of Local Government Act 2001."
That law says that "A person shall be deemed to have resigned from membership of a local authority where the person is absent from attendance at any meeting of the authority for a continuous period of six consecutive months . . . " In Michael Fahy's case, he has been unavoidably detained in Castlerea since April, and should therefore be deemed to have resigned by October at the latest.
He should, of course, have resigned anyway. And, arguably, in the absence of his resignation, he ought to be disqualified from membership of the county council on the grounds, specified in the Local Government Act, that he "is undergoing a sentence of imprisonment for any term exceeding six months" and that he has been found guilty of "fraudulent or dishonest dealings affecting a local authority". On a very lenient but arguable view, he is appealing his conviction and therefore these rules do not yet apply. But there can be no such doubt about his six months absence from council meetings.
There is, however, one get-out clause. If a councillor is absent due to illness and the council passes a resolution to this effect, the resignation is put on hold. The Stroke asked the council to deem his absence from meetings to be "due to illness and his attendance in Dublin", rather than "due to the fact that I have been convicted of defrauding the council and am currently in chokey".
Staggeringly, the councillors accepted this proposition. Two Fianna Fáil councillors proposed it, none of the other 20 councillors said a word, and the motion was passed unanimously in three minutes.
And why not? If you can take wads of cash and be Taoiseach, why can't you rob a council and remain a councillor?
quote: I've recently found out Murray Mexted is a rugby commentator.
As well as an All Black Captain (although I don't think he ever captained a full test side...) and one of the best destructive eights of modern times.
Posts: 5389 | From: Cheshire with Love | Registered: May 2002
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Here is a lengthier (and more entertaining) piece about my illustrious namesake.
quote:A STROKE TOO FAR FOR FAHY
Michael Fahy's conviction for fraud and theft was far from the 'slap on the wrist' he and his supporters were expecting. Will anyone else ever get caught, asks Kathy Sheridan?
It was inevitable, of course. After decades of allegations, 10 years of publicly funded tribunals, a ceaseless parade of bombast and sharp suits swaggering back to sleek, often publicly funded limos outside Dublin Castle, it was only a matter of time before someone ended up with a prison sentence for abusing their elected office for personal gain.
Out of a crowded field, however, who would have guessed that the role would fall to a lowly, garrulous county councillor, nicknamed "the Stroke", from south Co Galway, someone who had never darkened the door of Dublin Castle, and all for a lousy €10,000? Michael Fahy's further misfortune was that he believed his little problem had been discreetly settled behind closed doors long before.
Indeed, as his many local supporters point out, he had paid back every penny, plus a "fine", in respect of a misappropriated £7,055 worth of fencing around his land, built with council funds, before being publicly rumbled. The "fine", as agreed so discreetly with the then county manager, was €3,000 for the Lourdes parish fund in Ardrahan and when announced in the parish, elicited applause and thanks from neighbours who thought they were merely looking at an extremely generous man. Yet another stroke for "the Stroke", whose verbal incontinence almost drove his own supporters insane in court. "There was a feeling that he elaborated too much," says Paddy O'Grady, a friend and long-time Fianna Fáil activist in Ardrahan.
FAHY IS OF the old school; a sabre-rattling, unreflective, flamboyant, "ward healer", "an ordinary countryman", "a bit on the Ballymagash side", even in the eyes of his supporters. The court reports are littered with Fahy's lengthy, down-home embellishments.
Asked to describe, for example, the day he got the first intimation from the county manager that he was in trouble, he recalled that he was sitting down at his home, "about to eat a fine dinner of bacon and cabbage which my mother had prepared for me"; he had hardly got "one forkful of cabbage" in his mouth when he got the call.
Likewise, when the three detectives arrived on an August morning, they had frightened his mother, who was still in bed at the time.
Meanwhile, he had "one jaw shaved" when he looked out the window. "I was afraid she might die when she saw all the cars outside and I hadn't even given her a cup of tea by that stage."
A local supporter says, wryly, that Fahy's exclusion time after time from election as mayor was down to this lack of sophistication. "I suppose it was a lack of ability . . . He was not a man to spend a few days studying how to do better . . . not a man to study how he should act or to sit down and prepare."
Ask about Fahy, aged 56, around his Ardrahan heartland, where he was proud to boast that he pulled in 2004 number ones in 2004, and they paint a picture of an only child, a well-liked bachelor and sole carer of his frail 97-year-old mother, a virtual teetotaller and an extremely hard-working man "married to politics", a calling which dovetailed nicely - "nearly like being an ESB meter reader", in the words of one local - with a successful career selling insurance door to door. By all accounts, he was salesperson of the year with his company for several consecutive years. "He'd outweigh any 10 of us for money", laughs an opposing politician. Locally, they say he has "retired" from the insurance business but his barrister told the court that he had suffered the loss of his job as a result of the court proceedings.
His conviction means that he is automatically disqualified from holding public office and may not stand for election to the council for five years.
These bode a bleak future for a man for whom "being a councillor was very important to his self-esteem", in the words of his barrister.
His speciality, said O'Grady, was helping people out with form-filling and letter-writing to officials. "He would have done more of that than the 30 other council members down the years. He kind of specialised in what journalists call clientilism. He got a lot of that because he was out and about with his insurance business and was so approachable. He was genuinely interested in helping people but he also had his eye on the vote, as any politician has to . . .".
One opponent, who remembers him as "a very, very good councillor, who genuinely liked people", nonetheless says that "the nickname was not put on him for nothing . . . I remember years ago if there were a few council houses being allocated, the Stroke would know - I still don't know how - the evening before who was getting the houses and would be below in the village telling the people they'd got the house . . ." Of course, it appeared to the lucky ones that the houses had been beamed down, courtesy of the Stroke.
His power was significant for anyone seeking a Dáil seat in the constituency. "He controlled the constituency for Fianna Fáil," says local businessman Pat Quinn. "His vote could elect a TD. In fact, he did help to elect Máire Geoghegan Quinn, Mark Killilea and Noel Treacy," says O'Grady. "He gave Frank Fahey some help - to an extent."
He earned the "Stroke" nickname at the start of his career from John Cunningham, now editor of the Connacht Tribune. It was in honour of Fahy's success in pulling off a rare coup; when he failed to get a nomination for the council election in 1979, he managed to have another meeting called at which he was added to the ticket.
It was not a nickname that he liked, not all the time at any rate. When he was up, he liked it, but some years ago, he asked local journalists to stop using it. According to O'Grady, the name has been resurrected only in recent weeks by the media.
It was inevitable. After five days of evidence this month, however, a jury in Galway circuit court swiftly found that Fahy had pulled a stroke too far with his fencing. It took only two and a half hours to reach a unanimous verdict of guilty on seven counts under the Larceny Act and Theft and Fraud Offences Act, including false accounting and attempting to make a gain by deception.
It found that Fahy had caused £7,055 to be paid by Galway Co Council to a company for fencing on his own land at Ardrahan, in 2001 and 2003. It also found that he had attempted to "dishonestly appropriate" €7,233 and €7,523 by submitting false invoices from Byrne Fencing.
No-one in Galway, not even his sharpest political opponents, expected more than "a serious slap on the wrist", in the shape of a hefty fine and maybe a suspended sentence, as one of them put it. But this week, Judge Raymond Groarke sentenced him to a year in prison as well as a €75,000 fine, after delivering a lengthy and scorching condemnation of his character as "a very determined fraudster" who had shown "premeditation and cunning . . . You are not a fool, but arrogant and greedy you certainly are."
One local politician, diametrically opposed to Fahy, culturally and otherwise, was stunned. "That's not the man I know. The guy was portrayed as arrogant, self-centred, malicious, thieving . . . But that's not him. I don't honestly believe there is a malicious bone in his body. But I do believe he is seriously misguided and not totally in touch with reality. He was convinced from the first day that he'd get off . . ."
ECHOING THE VIEWS of many in Galway, he argued that the sentence was "totally disproportionate . . . This is a man living alone with his 97-year-old mother not in the best of health, and this is her only son, who she used to go out canvassing with . . . and all of a sudden, he's a criminal. Yet only last week, a guy walked free from a rape case. It's appalling inconsistency in sentencing out there . . .". Another respected politician, from a different party, was hearing - and clearly believed - something similar: "What some would argue is that he is devious, clever, greedy as they come but you could argue that he wasn't a criminal - not in the strict sense of the word."
In his own area, upstanding citizens such as Margaret Higgins, Nora Mullins, Quinn and O'Grady, while anxious to defend the rule of law, are nonetheless unconvinced that the case was proved beyond reasonable doubt. They were also aghast at the "onslaught" from the judge. Above all, they felt sorry for Fahy in his solitary state, without a close family member to support him or to simply advise him to curtail his garrulousness. Immediately after the hearing, under the impression that he was to be taken to prison immediately, he asked them to take care of his mother.
Many outside his locality felt that had he gone into court, "with his hands up", he would have got a slap on the wrist. But as the latter politician put it, "I think possibly what the judge took grave exception to, was that he tried to implicate young council engineers and officials in what he did and that's despicable. They were just doing a professional day's work."
In court, Fahy tried to argue that the work, carried out under a Community Involvement Scheme (CIS) operated by Galway County Council, had been for the benefit of the local community.
It was always going to be a tough argument to sustain. Out of a total of 2,506 metres of fencing erected in Ardrahan under the scheme, 1,629 metres - a mile or so - had somehow pitched up on Fahy's private farmland, near a road that the prosecution dismissed as a cul de sac and "a bit of a backwater", used only by Fahy and one other neighbour. The jury was obviously not convinced by Fahy's protestations that two other landowners in the area also used the road. The fact that the work also included the hanging of three gates across the public roadway, outside Fahy's home, to be used by him to facilitate the movement of cattle from one side of his farm to the other, hardly helped his case. Not only did the council know nothing about the gates, but their presence on the road was deemed illegal.
Fahy also tried to argue that he had a "gentleman's agreement" with the then council area engineer, Noel Forde, whereby Fahy would give cut stone "worth at least €15,000" from a disused old cottage on his farm, to the council, in exchange for the fencing work on his land. Fahy claimed that Forde had asked for the stone because there was a shortage of stone for Fás schemes. Forde responded that he would never have asked for stone from any landowner as there was plenty available to the council from road-widening or from farmers who wanted walls taken away. "Any stone wall removed was at the request of Mr Fahy. It was on no conditions. I agreed to nothing," said Forde. The stone went somewhere. Fahy's counsel, Martin Giblin SC, wondered if there was "a black hole in Galway that would swallow up 150 loads of stone". Fahy claimed in court that the council owed him €14,000. Whatever the ultimate destination of the stone, the jury never bought the story of a "gentleman's agreement".
Fahy's determination to extract the maximum from council schemes, and his expertise around the system that had made him a poll-topper over five local elections and the longest-serving member of Galway county council, gave him what appears to many to have been a "misguided" sense of invincibility.
A remarkable feature of the court revelations was that it was only when Fahy submitted a second, blatantly suspect invoice for work done, that anyone in the council actually went out to inspect the site and discovered that fencing had been erected on Fahy's land. At that stage, £7,055 had already been paid out to the fencing company by the council.
According to John Morgan, the council's director of services with responsibility for roads and transportation, the fencing contractor, Thomas Byrne, seemed to believe that the area engineers were "in collusion" with Fahy during the Caherduff CIS and that the council would pay for the work on the councillor's private land. Byrne himself told the trial that Fahy had told him that he had the permission of the council for the work on his land. He regarded Fahy as "the boss" on the ground as he was an elected member of the council for that area.
But Fahy, according to Morgan, had then tried to shift the blame to Byrne, calling him a "crook".
A second remarkable revelation was how the scam was dealt with by the council. Despite the recommendation of John Morgan that the case be referred to the Garda, the then county manager, Donal O'Donoghue, decided against it. O'Donoghue told the court that he was mindful of the trauma that could be caused to staff and their families as a result of a Garda investigation and so "deferred" it. In his report, he noted that Fahy had by then repaid the £7,055 and he had imposed his own version of a "fine", under which Fahy would pay €3,000 to the Lourdes Parish Fund, a local charity.
Four days later, O'Donoghue retired.
And there it would have ended but for the submission of a Freedom of Information request for documents in the case by the Irish Independent in 2004. Tom Kavanagh, the then acting county manager, weighed up his choices and decided to refer the file to the Garda instead.
A THIRD REVELATION, to political supporters and opponents alike around Galway, was Judge Raymond Groarke's summation of Fahy's character at the sentencing hearing this week. He addressed him as an "arrogant, greedy and determined fraudster", who had "knowingly implicated" Thomas Byrne, "a totally innocent man", leaving him open to "vilification and ruin" if the truth had not emerged.
"Your bombast, bluster and bluff may well have been seen as such by those who witnessed your performance in the witness box, namely the jury, but all the while you gambled with the reputations of honest men in seeking an escape from the consequences of your delinquency." Fahy, said the judge, had used his long experience on the council to steal from the local authority for his own benefit.
And while his barrister had tried to suggest that Fahy's limited education - to primary school level - had been a contributory factor, this was "erroneous". Fahy had shown "premeditation and cunning"in his fraudulent actions, which the jury had found, were carried out in a purposeful way. As well as his council allowance, Fahy was earning €60,000 a year as an insurance salesman, worked a 70-acre farm and owned valuable property.
He could easily have paid his way without difficulty, said the judge, but chose not to. The motivation could only be greed.
He had "insulted and sullied" the office and position of a county councillor and his actions had "belittled and rendered suspect" all other hardworking councillors who went about their work diligently and honestly. "The conviction of a person elected to public office brings disgrace and odium upon such a person in a most public way" Before passing sentence, Judge Groarke gave some indication of his thinking. He asked if Fahy had resigned his council seat since his conviction a few weeks ago. It was an important matter, he said; was he now addressing "Councillor Fahy" or "Mr Fahy"? Fahy's fate may have been sealed when his barrister replied that it was his client's "conscientious and considered position" that he continue to be a councillor. In fact, days after his conviction a few weeks ago, he was at the annual conference of the Association of County and City Councils in Dungarvan.
The night of his sentencing, according to neighbours, he said his home resembled the good old days with the buzz of party meetings. By Thursday, he was a more chastened man as the reality of his situation began to dawn. As news broke of his intention to appeal his sentence and conviction, a few of his neighbours gathered in Joyce's pub in Ardrahan to defend their friend. Would he not have been wiser to resign his council seat? "But wouldn't he be admitting guilt if he resigned?", asks Quinn. Fahy's friends are not blind but they are loyal.
So what next for Michael Fahy? Solitude doesn't suit him, they say. He left Fianna Fáil to go forward as an independent Dáil candidate, but was back within a couple of years because he felt isolated. His only hope now lies in his appeal against his conviction and sentence, notice of which has now been lodged with the Court of Criminal Appeal. Poll after poll reflects the cynicism of the public towards their elected representatives. Will a jail sentence for Michael Fahy discourage the others? Are the others too sophisticated to get caught?