The Westmeath County Council offices in Mullingar.

Financial overseer was ‘shocked’ by news of €515k fraud on council

A senior financial overseer has described how she was left “deeply shocked” when informed that scammers had defrauded Westmeath County Council of €515,000 earlier this year.

“I cannot imagine the reactions and feelings of those closer to the situation,” Anne O’Keeffe, chairperson of Westmeath Audit Committee, stated as she presented two audit committee reports to the members of the council at their March monthly meeting.

“I first became aware of this on the evening of Friday February 16 last when I received a confidential phone call from Jimmy Dalton [Westmeath County Council’s chief finance officer] who summarised the information which was to hand at that early stage,” Ms O’Keeffe said.

Her note of that call recorded that she was being informed in her role as chair of the audit committee, but no action was required of her.

After that first phone call, she spoke a number of times with Mr Dalton both before and since the release of a media statement on February 22.

“As chair, I believe my communications at all times have been appropriate and objective, but I hope also concerned and supportive,” Ms O’Keeffe said.

Continuing, she told the members that on Thursday February 29, Mr Dalton gave a confidential, comprehensive briefing to the full audit committee, which included details of the arrangements which had been put in place to continue to make payments and all the actions taken or being put in place.

Ms O’Keeffe said that the audit committee members were shocked, but had, nonetheless, expressed their appreciation of the efforts of all involved in handling “this unfortunate incident”.

Term ends

Ms O’Keeffe told the meeting that this was the ninth year in which she had addressed councillors in her role as chair of the audit committee, and that it would also be the last, given that the tenure of the committee will lapse with the coming local elections.

In her review of financial activities, Ms O’Keeffe said the committee endorsed the continuing practice of striving to achieve a revenue surplus, which in 2022 had been achieved for the ninth successive year and which had resulted in an accumulated surplus of €446,000 at the end of December 2022.

Ms O’Keeffe also commended the continued strong performance on the collection of mortgage repayments.

The impact rising interest rates have on council borrowing was also noted, with an increase of 19% in loan repayments registered in 2022.


Summarising the annual report of the audit committee for 2023, Ms O’Keeffe said members were satisfied that all the queries raised by the audit committee members were responded to and detailed information was made available by council staff as necessary.

In her general comments, Ms O’Keeffe said that through her work, she has worked closely with the local government system at elected member, management and staff levels. This had made her familiar with “and indeed admiring” of the role, capacity and potential of the Irish local government system.

She was also complimentary of “the robust governance structure in place in the local authority system”, especially NOAC, the National Oversight and Audit Committee.

Concluding, said she had been especially fortunate to have with her as colleagues on the committee Alison Mangan, Damien Hannigan, Alan Shaw and the cathaoirleach, Cllr Liam McDaniel. She also extended thanks to staff members Tricia Mulvaney, Aidan Bass and David Dearing, as well as Jimmy Dalton, former chief executive Pat Gallagher and the interim chief executive Barry Kehoe.

Social clause

Reacting to the report, Cllr Paul Hogan asked if consideration had ever been given to introducing a “social clause” requiring that a certain percentage of local authority contracts and spending be undertaken by local contractors.

Interim chief executive Barry Kehoe, responding, said that was a valid point, and one that the council consider on an ongoing basis – “but we’re very constrained by national and EU procurement rules”.

“What we do through our Local Enterprise Offices, we provide guidance and training to local contractors, where we can, in order to facilitate and to give them the skills they need to navigate public procurement,” he stated.