By Dan Walsh
Elected members of Wexford County Council today at a special meeting held in ‘the Street’ at Carricklawn, Wexford, under Covid-19 guidelines, considered a submission by the Chief Executive Officer, Tom Enright, and accepted the findings of a report by the Standards in Public Office (SIPO) Commission and decided to take no further sanctions in relation to the matter.
In a submission circulated to the elected members, Mr Enright said that SIPO “has found in sending two e-mails to South East Radio on 29th and 30th August 2019, I failed to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest and breached the Code of Conduct for Local Authority employees. I thank the elected members for today’s opportunity to provide clarity and context to the reasons why I sent these e-mails.”
Mr Enright stated categorically that “I acted at all times in good faith and in the interest of Wexford County Council. I re-state that I regret the tone of my e-mails. However, I do not regret standing up for the Council against unfairness by South East Radio. I believe I was doing my job.”
Mr Enright apologised for “any embarrassment that I have caused to the Council” and he assured elected members that the SIPO findings “will not deter me from the important work of this Council that needs to be done.”
When the discussion were put to the floor of the meeting Mr Enright received overwhelming words of support from the elected members.
Speaking on behalf of the Fine Gael group on Wexford County Council, Cllr Oliver Walsh, said “we are here to discuss the findings and decide on a way forward. “Tom acted in good faith at all times. We have no questions.”
Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Pip Breen said his group accepted that the CEO was acting in the best interests of the Council and called for no formal sanctions.
Sinn Fein’s Cllr Tom Forde described Mr Enright as “a good man” but he objected to correspondence sent to Oireachtas members and felt legal advice should be coming from Wexford County Council members and not Oireachtas members!
Labour’s Cllr George Lawlor described Mr Enright as “a person of the highest integrity” and added; “The work of his team is exemplary and since the arrival of Tom Enright the actions of Wexford County Council have completely transformed the town (Wexford) and county.”
Cllr Ger Carthy said his family has been 57 years on Wexford County Council and he described Mr Enright as “one of the most progressive County Managers (old term for CEO)” and said he was delighted to sign his three-year extension when in the role of Cathaoirleach and he offered thanks for all he had done and wished him well.
Cllr Davy Hynes said he always found Tom Enright to be an excellent CEO. “He comes out on top when it comes to defending the Council,” he added.
Former Mayor of Wexford Cllr Leonard Kelly said Mr Enright was “a man of absolute integrity who stands up for the people of this county.”
Cllr Mary Farrell said; “Tom Enright acted in good faith” and she agreed with the other speakers regards his professionalism and progressive nature.
Cllr Jim Codd (Aontú) stated that while the media must remain free, and he accepted the SIPO findings he stated “to err is human” and Mr Enright’s work far outweighs any need for sanctions. “It is a learning curve for us all,” stated Cllr Codd, who concluded; “I have great respect for Tom Enright.”
Cllr John Hegarty spoke about working beside the CEO when he was Cathaoirleach and described him as “hardworking and diligent and in every action he had Wexford at heart.”
Cllr Pat Barden said was not present in a personal capacity but to represent the 1,900 people who voted for him and lamented that he was given seven days to consider a report of nearly 700 pages and he felt seven days was not enough to consider and discuss a report of this magnitude.
Cllr Oliver Walsh stated it had been a tough time for Tom (Enright) and his family and he asked that a line be drawn under the matter – note the findings, no sanctions, he proposed. Cllr Pip Breen agreed and seconded Cllr Walsh’s motion. “No further sanctions are warranted,” he added. There was no counter motion.
Cllr Barbara-Anne Murphy, Cathaoirleach, put the motion to the elected members which read simply “Note the findings of the Report. No further sanctions” There was a roll-call and the following members replied YES ; Cllrs Maura Bell, Andrew Bolger, Pip Breen, Aidan Browne, Cathal Byrne, Ger Carthy, Jim Codd, Kathleen Codd-Nolan, Diarmuid Devereux, Anthony Donohoe, Mary Farrell, John Fleming, Tom Forde, John Hegarty, Davy Hynes, Willie Kavanagh, Leonard Kelly, Donal Kenny, Garry Laffan, George Lawlor, Lisa McDonald, Jim Moore, Barbara-Anne Murphy, Bridín Murphy, John O’Rourke, Michael Sheehan, Frank Staples, Joe Sullivan, Oliver Walsh and Michael Whelan. Cllr Pat Barden ABSTAINED and apologies for absence were accepted on behalf of Cllrs Anthony Connick, Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin and Jackser Owens. The motion was CARRIED.
An emotional Mr Enright said he welcomed the decision of the Elected Members of Wexford County Council who today decided that no action will be taken in relation to the findings in the SIPO report published last week.
“I wish to state again that I regret the tone of the two e-mails sent to South East Radio. However, I was standing up to the radio station who were shown to have breached the Broadcasting Act and who I was informed were acting in a deliberately biased manner against the Council.
“I am very passionate for the work that Council staff and Councillors do to make County Wexford a better place and some of that passion overflowed into these two e-mails.
“I cannot thank people enough for their support during this time. I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the large outpouring of support. Hundreds of messages of support, many from people I don’t even know and have never met.
“The Council should have a good and constructive working relationship with our local radio station and we intend to look to put a Service Level Agreement in place with South East Radio to facilitate an improved relationship into the future.
“I am pleased that I can now draw a line under this matter and concentrate fully on leading the important work and priorities of the Council including the delivery of essential public services, social and affordable housing, supporting communities in the fight against Covid-19 and the continued roll-out of our ambitious community and economic development programme,” concluded Mr Enright.