June 17 2003
By now you will be getting fed up with reading about the Hall/Ryan affair.
But not as fed up as I am with writing about it, I can assure you.
However, as someone once said: "Patience will always achieve more than genius" and so it has proved to be.
So, after almost a year of diligent research, I am able to tell you, with confidence, that the County Council's version of events, and the truth, are poles apart.
The important events in chronological order are:
1998: Chief Executive and two other senior officers visit Dublin and bump into Dr Ryan at the offices of a company he was advising. (Para 23 Auditor's report)
Early 2000: Dr Ryan made courtesy visit to County Hall where he met Chief Executive and David Thomas Head of Marketing and Communications.(Para 24).
May2000: Pembrokeshire awarded Objective 1 status. Management Board discuss and accept "decision" to appoint economic development consultant "though this was not recorded at the time." (Paras 10 and 11)
July 6 2000: advert in Irish Independent (closing date for applications, Wednesday 19 July) for an economic development consultant.
July 9 2000: 18 page application from ORA International Associates (Managing Director Dr Michael Ryan) sent to county council.
August 1 2000: Eight working days after closing date for applications, letter from David Thomas, Head of Marketing and Communications advising ORA International Ltd of Limerick that they had been awarded the contract. Appointment made after "review" of applications and on the strength of a single verbal reference which was not "formally documented". (Para 16).
August 17 2000: Dr Ryan visits Pembrokeshire and meets Thomas (See Thomas' letter to ORA of September 12 2000)
Circa August 17 2000: Chief Executive introduces Dr Ryan to Cllr Hall ??? (Para 27)
September 2 2000: letter from ORA International Ltd to Mr Thomas, signed by Dr Ryan as managing director, informing him that the company's "Board of Directors" (Dr Ryan and Paul Ryan of the same address) had resolved to set up a subsidiary company in the UK with Dr Ryan as its representative on the board. The letter contains a promise that, in order to avoid any conflict of interest with ORA's role as the County Council's economic development consultants, the new company would not trade in Pembrokeshire.
September 12 2000: David Thomas letter to ORA accepting these assurances.
September 20 2000: Hall writes "private letter" to Leader informing him of his intention to go into business with Dr Ryan. (Para 28)
Early Autumn 2000: Hall tells Chief Executive of his intention to go into business with Ryan (see Para 46)
September/October 2000: Ryan tells Thomas of his intention to go into business with Hall. (Answer to my question to council on 13 July 2004) but see auditor's report Para 35.
October 4-7 2000: Period during which Ryan told the auditors he first met Cllr Hall. (Para 27. But see September 20 above)
October 2000: ORA's appointment discussed at Council's Management Board. Not stated whether this was recorded. (Para 17)
October 16 2000: Ryan's fax to Hall setting out elaborate plans to trade in Pembrokeshire (Fax starts: "I have a last completed my part of the business plan . . ." and later details projects that Hall and Ryan have been asked to manage. None of this is consistent with the 9-12 day time lapse since Ryan claimed to have first met Hall (See October 4-7 above))
November 16-19 (Thursday-Sunday) Cllr Brian Hall spends four days "touring" Pembroke Dock in the company of Dr Ryan and a Mr Pat O'Sullivan. Hall claimed £30.00 in expenses, Dr Ryan's fees amounted to £1,800 and an unknown amount (estimated at £700) was spent on hotel accommodation and travelling expenses for Dr Ryan and, most probably, Mr O'Sullivan. Mr David Thomas, the officer to whom Dr Ryan was answerable, was present on the Friday.
December 29 2000: Euro-Ryall Ltd incorporated. Sole directors and shareholders, Dr Ryan and Cllr Hall. This is clearly not the subsidiary of ORA stipulated in the letter of September 2 because, despite the fact that Dr Ryan is a director of both companies, ORA and Euro-Ryall Ltd have no legal connection, whatsoever.
Therefore, even if the promise not to trade in Pembrokeshire in the letter of September 2 was "contractually enforceable" as against ORA, which is doubtful for complex legal reasons, it is certainly not enforceable against the entirely separate entity, Euro-Ryall Ltd, which, in any case, had not even been "born" when the letter was written.
January 26 2001: Chief Executive, David Thomas, Cllr Hall and Dr Ryan meet Purcell Bros. (Owners of the Cleddau Bridge Hotel)
February 2001: Hall takes Ryan out for lunch at taxpayers' expense
February 2001: Hall takes Ryan out for lunch at taxpayers expense.
April 2 2001: Chief Executive, David Thomas, Cllr Hall and Dr Ryan meet Purcell Bros
July 6 2001: Ryan and Mr Pat O'Sullivan (see Nov 16-19 above) form the Irish-registered company Intro Europe International Ltd.
December 9 2003: Old Grumpy publishes details of Ryan's fax to Hall dated 16 October 2000.
January 6 2004: Intro Europe International dissolved.
But, let us return to October 2000 and the main plank of the council's argument: that Euro-Ryall Ltd has never traded in Pembrokeshire.
This is, of course true, but it has never traded anywhere else either.
Are we to believe that Hall and Ryan set up this company so they could give their occupation as company director if they were ever to appear in the Magistrates Courts on a speeding charge?
What I have learned recently is that the absence of business activity in Pembrokeshire was not for want of trying.
During October 2000, and probably earlier, Hall and Ryan were hatching elaborate schemes to trade in Pembrokeshire on their own account - particularly in Pembroke Dock.
Included among these plans was a potential major development in conjunction with the owners of the Cleddau Bridge Hotel with Ryan and Hall's yet-to-be-formed company cast in the role of project managers..
The four-day tour of Pembroke Dock in November, which cost the taxpayer in excess of £2,000, was, I believe, largely given over to negotiations concerning this project.
Hall/Ryan also had ambitious plans to buy up small businesses in the county, with Hall (ab)using information acquired through his position as a councillor to identify suitable targets.
Unfortunately, Hall and Ryan's high opinion of their core business skills was not shared by the owners of the Cleddau Bridge Hotel and that deal fell through.
Then, after I found out about this inappropriate relationship between a council employee and an elected member, the whole project was abandoned; the retreat being covered by a smokescreen of lies, half-truths and misrepresentations of the law.
Knowing from experience how quickly Cllr Hall resorts to his lawyers, whenever anyone dares to draw attention to his unsavoury activities, I would, in normal circumstances, be looking forward to a letter from his solicitor's before the week was out.
However, two things persuade me that I might be disappointed.
The first is that m' learned friends are presently arguing over how much he should pay me after shooting himself in the foot during his last foray onto the legal battlefield.
That involved his attempt to bully the editor of the Mercury into silence after the paper reported that I had made a complaint to the police about Cllr Hall's claim for expenses in respect of his high speed journeyings on 1 February 2001: by happy chance, my birthday.
In a letter to the Managing Director of the Mercury's parent company, Newsquest Ltd, dated 19 October 2001, his solicitors twice accused me of conducting "a jihad" against their client, "a man of exemplary character".
This was offensive in the extreme, coming less than six weeks after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre, and a bit rich from a man who was censured by a meeting of the County Council for threatening two of the minority group leaders with physical violence.
But more on that fascinating tale after I've banked the cheque..
The other reason I won't be hearing from his solicitor is that what I am saying is true.
Looking through my library of back numbers, I notice that when one of Cllr Hall's opponents got into a bit of financial trouble his demand for their resignation was accompanied by a quote in the Western Telegraph that councillors should be "squeaky clean" and, in the Mercury; "whiter than white".
It is to be hoped that he takes his own advice rather than have the label hypocrite added to the other uncomplimentary descriptions that he attracts.
Alternatively, the Leader could do his duty by giving him the sack.
Meanwhile, is it too much to expect the opposition to start asking some questions.
Could I suggest:
(1) Was Dr Ryan known to the council, or any of its officers and members, before the advert appeared in the Irish Independent?
(2) What has Dr Ryan achieved during his time with the Council?
(3) How much of the £75,000 that Dr Ryan will have cost the authority in fees and expenses by the end of next month involves time spent in the pursuit of his own and Cllr Hall's private business interests?
(4)Why did the Monitoring Officer claim there was a "contractually enforceable" agreement with Dr Ryan when the facts clearly indicate that this was not the case? (see con-tract)
(5) Why did the Leader put out a press release on November 6 last year claiming that: "The council is fully aware of the company Euroryall (sic). Before the company was registered, the principals approached officers of the council. They gave firm undertakings that the company would not trade in Pembrokeshire nor provide any conflict of interest", when the documents provided to me by the Monitoring Officer to support his "contractually enforceable agreement" hypothesis, make no mention of either Cllr Hall or Euro-Ryall Ltd?
(6) Why has the Leader persistently refused to answer my questions about his mendacious press release?
(7) Was the private business of Hall and Ryan discussed in the presence of Mr David Thomas when they met on 17 November 2000?
(8) Why, contrary to all normal practice, was Hall allowed to take charge of the November tour rather than Mr David Thomas, the officer controlling Dr Ryan's contract?
(9) Why was Dr Ryan engaged by the Marketing and Communications Department (Press Office) and not the Economic Development Department?
(10) Does the Marketing and Communications Department have a budget for this sort of activity?
(11) Why did Cllr Hall not declare an interest at the Cabinet meeting of 29 June 2002? (see Conflict of opinion)
(12) Where and what is the "successfully completed major project" in Pembrokeshire that ORA's website (www.oriain.ie) used to boast of before it mysteriously disappeared from cyberspace?
That's a nice round dozen to be going on with.
Waiting for Godot
Normally, I would have taken my concerns to the Ombudsman but I am still showing the bruises from the last time that august but overrated body kicked me into touch.
That was over a year ago when I went to the trouble of preparing a long complaint about the conduct of Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse.
The substance of my allegations was that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse had failed to declare an interest at meetings of both the County Council and National Parks, when the latter's controversial "homes-for-locals" policy was debated.
As well as owning a large tract of the National Park, Cllr Allen-Mirehouse is a director of a company called Angle Developments Ltd whose purpose, according to Companies House website, is "development and sell (sic) land".
Clearly, the homes-for-locals policy, if adopted, would depress the price of building land - hence my contention that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse had a pecuniary interest to declare.
Almost by return, I had a letter from the Ombudsman telling me that, in keeping with their normal practice, the matter had been referred to the police.
I wrote back pointing out that I had never alleged that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse had breached the criminal law, but the Ombudsman insisted that the case stay remain with the constabulary.
Months went by and on 10 February 2003 I emailed the Ombudsman asking for a progress report.
Back came the reply that police investigations were ongoing and I should address my questions to them.
So, on 14 April I wrote to the police.
A week later, they acknowledge receipt of my letter and the rest, as they say, is silence.
What the hell is going on?
Last week, I received a letter from the District Audit Service telling me that the County Council had, at last, "obtained the missing invoice" for £305.00 in respect of Cllr Bill Hitchings' trip to Belfast on 18-21 June 2001 (See Revisionists).
In a letter dated 6 June, the auditor tells me: "The council has independently obtained the missing invoice and has provided me with a copy."
As this invoice should have been available for scrutiny during last October's public audit, I have written to the Director of Finance asking when it will be convenient for me to pop in to County Hall, examine it and take a copy.
Even if the elusive invoice proves genuine, there are still outstanding questions regarding Cllr Hitchings' expense claims.
Firstly there is the claim he submitted for £94.03 for an overnight stay in London on 30 January 2002.
This was accompanied by a signed pro forma statement that: "I have actually paid the fares and made the other authorised payments shown and attach receipts to support my claim (council's emphasis)"
There were no receipts and Cllr Hitchings was sent a standard letter telling him the claim would be disallowed.
This spurred him into action and he produced receipts for £52.86 - more than £40.00 less than his original claim.
Similarly, with the Belfast trip, where he attempted to claim £319.28 but had, so we're told, only spent £305.00.
Now, ask yourself what would happen to a recipient of state benefits who tried to claim £94.00 when they were only entitled to £53.00.
They would be up before the beak before you could say Jack Robinson.
So, why should the high and mighty be treated differently?
The District Audit Service routinely concludes its letters: "Thank you for drawing this matter to my attention" which is bureaucrat-speak for push off.
For the past ten years, I have been complaining to District Audit about these petty expense fiddles - it's not thanks I want, but action.
"Politics is perhaps the only profession where no preparation is thought necessary"
(Robert Louis Stevenson)
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