*Cllr PJ Kelly. Photograph: Eamon Ward
CLARE COUNTY COUNCIL’s Head of Finance has said an article by The Ditch website “wasn’t accurate” regarding their legal fees.
In October, The Ditch reported on the Council’s legal fees and in particular raised questions of its payments to Michael Houlihan & Partners Solicitors (now MHP Sellors Solicitors) over the past five decades. From 2019 to 2021, the Council spent an average of €13,000 a week on legal fees.
Records of the Council’s legal fees from 2017 to 2022 paid were sought by the online outlet. It reported how the local authority’s website appears to suggest it has paid the practice almost €20m in 2022. “The figure paid to Michael Houlihan Solicitors is not exclusively legal fees – it includes all house acquisitions, land acquisitions, CPO costs associated with various capital projects such as Killaloe Bypass,” a spokesperson for the Council stated in response.
Since 1976, MHP Sellors has been the retained solicitors to Clare County Council.
Speaking at Thursday’s meeting to approve the Council’s annual budget for 2024, Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) highlighted the legal expenses. He questioned the €20m figure mentioned and described it as “a frightening amount of money”.
Lissycasey native Kelly voiced his frustration on a time-limit speaking of three minutes introduced for the meeting, “it is a pity we are restrained from speaking and it is a concern. I’m disappointed that we decided to strangle ourselves by a three minute rule, it should be abandoned for dealing with something as important as this”.
Addressing his concerns, Head of Finance, Noeleen Fitzgerald stated of the article “it wasn’t accurate”. She said, “it referred to how much we paid through county solicitor on surveying process, turnkey and housing, when they spoke over 20m, over 19.5m was for purchasing of properties, we’ve dealt with that”.
Speaking to The Clare Echo subsequent to this, Cllr Kelly flagged, “I’ve raised this on several occasions. If Clare County Council had their own legal staff they would be paid a base salary instead we’re paying out €1m in legal fees, it is not justified. Kerry County Council has its own legal team”.