The Chief Executive of Wexford County Council has apologised to the elected members of the local authority for any “embarrassment that he may have caused” following a Standards in Public Office Commission hearing into his conduct.
Mr. Tom Enright, read from a prepared statement, at a special meeting of Wexford County Council this afternoon.
The Standards in Public Office Commission found Mr. Enright contravened the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 and 2001 and part 15 of the Local Government Act 2001. The report, which was published last week, said Mr. Enright failed to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest.
The hearing followed a complaint, which was made by independent producer Karl Fitzpatrick.
In a statement to a special meeting of the County Council this afternoon Mr. Enright said “he does not agree with much of the Standards in Public Office Commission findings”, but he does “accept them and the role of SIPO”. He said he is “extremely disappointed with the Commission’s findings” which in his view “are disproportionate”
Mr. Enright says he “regrets the tone of his emails” to South East Radio in August 2019, the details of which were heard during evidence at the investigation hearing. However, he says he “does not regret standing up for the Council” and he believes he was “just doing his job”.
The Chief Executive says he has been advised there “are strong grounds to legally challenge SIPO’s findings“, however he said he “can confirm to the Council he has no intention of doing so“.
The contraventions of the Ethics in Public Office and Local Government Acts centre on emails Mr. Enright sent to the management of South East Radio on the 29th and 30th of August 2019.
In the emails Mr. Enright said he was “ceasing Wexford County Council’s commercial relationship with the radio station”. At the special meeting Mr. Enright denied SIPO’s finding that his emails amounted to a “threat to withdraw funding from South East Radio”. He said “the council had no contract and no obligation to advertise with the radio station”.
Mr. Enright felt certain content broadcast by South East Radio on the Morning Mix in March 2019 and Business Matters in August 2019 was biased, unprofessional and unfair to Wexford County Council. In his statement today he was highly critical of South East Radio for what he described as “deliberate bias against the Council”.
He says the Council “relies on a local media which is fair and unbiased and that he would never seek favorable treatment by local media for either himself or Wexford County Council”.
The Standards in Public Office found Mr. Enright failed to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest. It said the content, tone, style and language of the emails were not appropriate and amounted to an overreaction on Mr. Enright’s part. The Commission found it fell below what is expected of someone in his position.
The report says Mr. Enright “misused the Council’s position, in effect throwing around the weight of the council’s purse by putting pressure on the radio station to alter its broadcasting practices”. However, in his statement today, he rejected this finding by SIPO.
The Commission said the manner in which he contacted the radio station was disproportionate and inappropriate and brought disrepute upon his position and the Council.
It concluded all three contraventions were serious and were committed recklessly. In his statement today Mr. Enright said he “acted at all times in good faith and in the interest of Wexford County Council”.
The special meeting heard from many councilors from across all parties who endorsed Mr. Enright’s work saying he was “honorable, a man of integrity, who acted in good faith at all times“. Independent Councillor Pat Barden questioned the short time frame given to Councillors to consider the matter – he said “rushing the process serves no one’s interests”
Following a 20 minute adjournment to allow Wexford County Councillors to consider the SIPO report and Mr. Enright’s submission – 30 Councillors voted in favour of a motion to impose no further sanction on him. While Councillor Pat Barden abstained from the vote. Three other County Councillors sent their apologies as they were unable to attend today’s special meeting.