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FFilthy Lucre

By Vanessa Foran

How it started:  A Fianna Fáil TD appearing on the national platform as low-key, unimpressive to the point of being insipid, and just a bit greasy. 

Yet this TD has the good fortune to own a residential property in Dublin City – that he himself doesn’t use, despite working in Dublin as a TD and Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.  He opts for other arrangements, perhaps commuting from his constituency of Longford-Westmeath, or availing of hotel accommodation within Oireachtas expenses provisions for elected members.  

This apartment is occupied by a tenant, therefore providing Robert Troy rental income, Case V, for tax purposes.  Perhaps to assist with a mortgage payment, as Leo Varadkar himself might assume.

The circumstances still make this TD and Minister of State the owner of an investment property for MARP / Mortgage lending regulations and enforcement, and a landlord requiring registration  – and therefore regulation by the State through its Residential Tenancies Board.

In addition to this rental asset, Troy has a separate business of property development, which is currently developing the site where this rental asset is located into new build residential units that have already been sold ‘off plans’ as it were.

This makes residential property for investment a commercial activity for Troy alongside his day job as a TD, which is boosted by being appointed a Minister of State in the 32nd Government of Ireland.

I’m sure you can see that Troy has not your everyday Form 11 return, and has interests to declare as a condition of him being a member of the Oireachtas.

Here I add that Troy acquired a residential property from the Criminal Assets Bureau.  The CAB themselves are required to ensure they sell off assets seized by High Court order to purchasers whose affairs are in order.  Comprehensive due diligence would be required as to the source of the funds being used, to avoid money laundering: was it earned legitimately, for example, and is it tax compliant?  

The CAB may also require Garda Vetting before engaging in a material transaction with an individual.  If it doesn’t, let’s now suggest that they should.  Here’s why : what if the purchaser of an asset being disposed of by CAB has unpaid fines, or is the subject of a bench warrant?

Both the CAB solicitors and those representing Troy would also be obliged to confirm the buyer was 100% compliant with all forms of AML and Tax and Rates regulations before proceeding to complete the conveyancing and close the sale. Even more so in this case, as this property was subsequently sold for a profit by Troy back to another wing of the State for the use of social housing – a wing of the state where he was in a governance position, immediately presenting a risk of influence. 

As the property was to be used as social housing, it needed to be inspected by housing officers to ensure the property was suitable, as well as surveyed and independently valued.  The regulatory framework for Social Housing also requires that housing officers confirm that there is a need for that particular type of property in the area.  All this is prepared as a type of purchase order request that gets submitted to the Housing Agency for approval to then acquire the property for the local housing department in Westmeath County Council – who, as it happens, must also complete an independent valuation.

For the sale to proceed, council finance staff would be required to complete standard diligence checking before being set up as an approved supplier to the Local Council, typically the provision of a valid TC1 and that his source of funds were legitimately earned, perhaps ID confirming residential address, and a simple credit check to ensure he has no outstanding bills with the Council; refuse charges, for example.

As Troy was a councillor serving in this local Council chamber, additional checks and balances would be required before entering into a commercial arrangement with an elected member of its Governance Level.  Was it good value for taxpayer money?  What oversight did the Finance Committee of the Council have, likewise the Housing and Budgetary Committees, and what approval process did the County Manager complete to ensure  proper procedures were observed at all times? Standard checks and balances.

With this level of activity in property trading, and very successful trading, it most certainly meets the definition of trading.  Therefore subject to Income Tax and not a matter of Capital Gains Tax on the occasional one off / windfall events.

When an official accepts a nomination to run for election and submits their candidacy to the appointed Returning Officer, they immediately commit to fitness and probity regime with their signature.  That is a promise that gets underpinned with their Declarations to SIPO.  There can be no errors. Otherwise applying that signature is worth nothing, and has the same reliability as a forgery. Applying his own signature brings with it a promise of integrity, and to uphold the best interests of his constituents and the State, over his own at all times.  That’s governance.

Errors and lapses in memory must come with significant sanctions, the type that make banks weep. Troy should have conducted due diligence on himself before accepting the role of Minister of State from his party leader, Taoiseach Micheal Martin, as he promised he was a person of exceptional ethical standards and watertight compliance.  He can never be trusted to sign any Government document or legislation because he has put his own seal in doubt.

He has no excuse.  Neither do all the regulated lines of defence for the taxpayer all along the way from his first day as a local councillor.

Which makes the questions we now pose, in response to the latest Ditch report on that failed transaction between Troy and his business and Westmeath County Council for four additional residential units for the purposes of social housing, all the more cynical.

Did the transaction fail to proceed because of information within Westmeath County Council that required them to withdraw? If so, then what is it? Were the sellers not approved as suppliers? If so, then why? Did the Housing Agency refuse to approved the purchase?  If so, then why?

There is no ‘secret’ to be permitted – the entities given use of taxpayers money do not get to keep secrets.  Nor does a Minister of State with significant compliance breaches on his statutory disclosures get the benefit of discretion.

Regulatory frameworks are there to provide consistency of services and standards for the public and the State.  The governors and the governed.  But most of all Statutory Regulators and their mandates are compelled to ensure confidence at all times. Checks and balances conducted by these institutions are lines of defence to protect the State and its citizens.  

This sordid CV of one TD, who has yet to produce one ounce of legislation, has brought doubt into too many fixtures of the State apparatus and those employed by them.

The housing, finance and internal control departments of two separate local authorities. The Housing Agency. The Criminal Asset Bureau. The Standards in Public Office Commission. Even a Council Chamber, and the offices of two County Managers. Indeed this very Government and the party of the Taoiseach, Fianna Fáil.

No error or omission in Robert Troy’s SIPO returns should be tolerated.  SIPO is exactly the place where transparency is required to be seamless and unobstructed.