Some councillors say Dublin City Council management has serious questions to answer regarding a housing-charity CEO’s use of homes meant for social-housing tenants.
Miceal McGovern, the CEO of the approved housing body Cabhru Housing Association Services (CHAS), resigned recently amid questions about his use of social homes.
McGovern said in January that he had previously used apartment 74 of Father Scully House, off Mountjoy Square as an office. He said he only did this for about six weeks, though, and that CHAS’s board had approved it.
Also, his son Tighe McGovern had listed apartment 74 Father Scully House as his residential address with the Companies Registration Office from December 2016. Tighe McGovern said in January that this was essentially an administrative mistake.
Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn says he told Dublin City Council Deputy Chief Executive Brendan Kenny, who is head of housing for the council, back in 2018 that McGovern was using an apartment in one of the buildings his charity managed. “Brendan knew,” he says.
But a spokesperson for Dublin City Council says Kenny “absolutely” did not know.
Mannix Flynn is now calling for an independent investigation. Other councillors also have concerns.
“I believe that management were … fully aware of what went on and they didn’t act,” says independent Councillor Anthony Flynn.
But the Dublin City Council spokesperson says: “All claims were investigated and raised consistently with Cabhru.”
It has not been confirmed that McGovern used any of his housing charity’s social homes for his own private purposes, or for his relatives’, the council spokesperson said.
Councillors Decide to Delay
Cabhru Housing Association Services, formerly known as the Catholic Housing Aid Society, is a registered charity and runs several social-housing complexes for senior citizens in Dublin.
One of those is James McSweeney House on Berkeley Street in Phibsboro, where independent councillor Mannix Flynn says he met distressed elderly residents in October 2018.
The senior citizens were moved out of their homes in preparation for the complex to be demolished, and they weren’t given due process, Flynn says. CHAS then rented out the homes to students paying commercial rents.
In January, McGovern said that CHAS had “carried out extensive consultation” with residents and held open meetings where residents were offered different options.
At a meeting of the council’s Central Area Committee late last year, Kenny, the council’s head of housing, said CHAS’s treatment of the elderly tenants during this eposide “wasn’t appropriate”.
“But I think that organisation realise now that they cannot treat the residents like they did … We intervened and we think we resolved that,” he said.
Flynn says it was in October 2018 that he discovered McGovern’s use of one of the social homes – and told Kenny.
During the meeting of the Central Area Committee in December 2019, council management proposed transferring ownership of the land in Berkeley Street on which James McSweeney House is located to CHAS, so that it could borrow money to demolish and rebuild the complex.
“The way that this agency treated the elderly tenants was absolutely atrocious,” said Mannix Flynn at the meeting.
Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon also queried the wisdom of transferring the land to CHAS under the circumstances, and the committee decided to defer their decision on whether to transfer the land to CHAS .
Councillors agreed to invite the CEO to a meeting to answer questions. At the next meeting of the Central Area Committee, on 14 January, the plan to transfer the land to CHAS came up again.
Most of the 12 local councillors there expressed concern at that point, and did not agree to recommend to the full council that the land be sold to CHAS. Instead, councillors again requested that the CEO of CHAS be invited to attend a meeting.
To allow time for that meeting to take place, councillors agreed that the sale of land would be placed on the agenda for the full council meeting in March.
Despite this, on 23 January councillors received an email from council managers showing that the disposal was being brought to the full council on 3 February.
That email contained the standard report on the proposed sale of land, as well as a special report entitled Additional Report for Section 183 – City Council Meeting – 3rd February 2020.
The additional report outlined the importance of the role of approved housing bodies, the plans for the redevelopment of the complex, and the voluntary system of regulation in place for the sector.
It also offered an explanation of why CHAS had rented out social homes to students for commercial rents.
This week a Dublin City Council spokesperson said that the transfer of land to CHAS was put on the agenda of the February meeting by mistake. “It should not have gone onto the February agenda council meeting, this was an error, hence it was withdrawn before the meeting,” she said.
She also said the council doesn’t regret issuing the special report to councillors on 23 January, “because the process was ongoing and while our concerns were growing we felt that there was not sufficient justification at that particular stage to withdraw approval”.
The council management informed CHAS that the CEO would need to attend a meeting of the Central Area Committee before the transfer of land could proceed, says the spokesperson.
Independent Councillor Anthony Flynn says he doesn’t believe that the sale of land showed up on the agenda due to an error. “I spoke to several managers about the disposal,” he says.
Independent Councillor Cieran Perry said that if the local area councillors had followed the advice of council managers, they would already have transferred the land to CHAS.
It was only after they refused to do so on two separate occasions that the council finally opened an investigation, he says.
Kenny, the council’s deputy chief executive, held a meeting with CHAS’s chair and CEO on 11 February, and “all claims and all our concerns were again put to them, they were asked to absolutely fully address them as a matter of urgency”, the council spokesperson said.
The chairperson of CHAS said they planned to hold a special board meeting later that week. “On the following Monday, we were informed that the Chief Executive of Cabhru had resigned, with immediate effect, during the course of that board meeting,” the council spokesperson said.
The spokesperson for Dublin City Council said the board of CHAS is now carrying out a “full investigation” of all the issues that have arisen in relation to the housing charity’s Fr Scully House and James McSweeney House.
“They will report back to Dublin City Council when this investigation has been completed,” she said.
The council has reported issues raised to the office of the voluntary regulator in the Housing Agency, she says.
Some Dublin city councillors have long pushed for more powers to oversee approved housing bodies, given what a large role they are playing in providing social housing.
However, there is currently no legislation governing the AHB sector, a spokesperson for the Housing Agency said by phone.
Legislation to establish a regulator for the sector was signed on 23 December 2019, but has not yet come into effect.
“The Act was set up to provide for the regulation of approved housing bodies for the purposes of protecting certain housing assets provided or managed by such bodies,” says a spokesperson for the Housing Agency by email
The Charities Regulator is conducting an investigation into CHAS. A spokesperson for the regulator, said they can’t confirm when that investigation is likely to be completed, as it is quite complicated.
Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn submitted an emergency motion for the monthly council meeting on Monday, calling for a full, independent investigation into CHAS.
This is required because Dublin City Council’s involvement in investigating CHAS could lead to a conflict of interest, Mannix Flynn said. The issue has the potential to damage the reputation of Dublin City council and the approved housing body sector, he says.
Before Monday’s monthly council meeting, at a meeting of the leaders of the political parties and groups on the council, Cieran Perry, the independent councillor, says he argued for Flynn’s motion to be put to the full council.
But council managers said that a report would be issued to the council’s Central Area Committee and its housing committee, Perry said. In the end, the motion wasn’t heard at Monday’s meeting.
In the meantime, Mannix Flynn is calling for the original tenants from James McSweeney House – the ones who were moved out in anticipation of the transfer of the land to CHAS, and the demolition and redevelopment of the complex – to be “contacted and given their homes back”.
Independent Councillor Christy Burke, who chairs the Central Area Committee, has backed that call. “The big one for me is … where have the men and women gone who were living in it and they need to be offered back their homes?” he says.
The spokesperson for Dublin City Council said they plan to go ahead with the plans to demolish and rebuild the James McSweeney House complex, which was built in 1984.
They no longer support CHAS doing the work though, and will “request them to surrender the lease of the property at Berkeley Street back to Dublin City Council”.