Allen lands near Gorey could sell for €1m an acre

 

Fianna Fáil councillor will not say if he will benefit from sale of family's 36 rezoned acres in Wexford

Wexford Fianna Fáil councillor and former minister of state Lorcan Allen has refused to say whether he will be one of the beneficiaries of the sale of land owned by his family that was controversially rezoned for commercial development in 2002.

The parcel of 36 acres (15.4 hectares) - adjoining the Gorey bypass now under construction - was advertised in The Irish Times commercial property supplement yesterday as a "superb development holding", 1.6km from Gorey on the Courtown road.

The sale by public tender on December 1st is being handled by Mr Allen's Gorey-based auctioneering firm, Allen and Kenny Ltd. It is stated to be within 50 metres of a roundabout with access to the Gorey bypass, which is due to be completed in mid-2007.

A spokeswoman for the firm said yesterday that the land could fetch "a million an acre" because it is zoned for mixed use commercial development. Asked if this was a likely figure, Mr Allen said: "It could be worth €2 million an acre for all I know."

The long-serving councillor and one-time Dáil deputy said it was owned by his two sisters, but declined repeatedly to say whether he had an interest. It had been owned by his late mother when it was rezoned by Wexford County Council four years ago.

This decision was made by the council's four-member Gorey area committee, which was chaired by Mr Allen himself, but he absented himself from the meeting at which the decision was taken. There was "no stroke-pulling" involved, he said at the time.

The other members of the committee were councillors Joe Murphy (FF), Deirdre Bolger (FG) and Michael D'Arcy (FG). Mr Murphy and Ms Bolger retired from politics in 2004. Lands owned by her husband's firm, J Bolger and Company, were also rezoned.

Wexford County Council confirmed these decisions even though its own planners opposed commercial zoning for the Allen land because its peripheral location ran counter to the objectives of consolidating the town.

"This went through the proper process," Mr Allen said yesterday. "Everything I do as far as planning is concerned is legit."

However his party colleague, councillor Malcolm Byrne, said the rezoning was "very underhand" as it had not been subject to public consultation. "What I find particularly annoying is that Gorey was a planned town historically and it is now being exploited for the benefit of a few. The area plan talks about preserving the main street as the commercial centre for the town and that is now being undermined."

A site adjoining the Allen land is to be developed for a Tesco supermarket and multiplex cinema, but Mr Allen said he had "no idea" what might be built on his family's land. He also thought that Gorey and Courtown, three miles (4.8km) apart, would merge into a single urban area.

Mr Allen said Courtown's population had doubled in four years, while Gorey's had grown by 40 per cent. Yesterday's advertisement noted it was "the fastest growth area in the southeast".

In July 2004, Mr Allen was suspended from the Fianna Fáil national executive after forging Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's signature on a circular letter to some 2,000 constituents in the Gorey area, urging them to vote No 1 for what it described as a "patriotic and honest" county councillor.

Lorcan Allen: his life in politics

Lorcan Allen achieved national prominence during the 2004 local election when he circulated a forged letter of support from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, which helped him win re-election to Wexford County Council but it prompted a complaint from his running mate, Paddy Rath, who lost out. Mr Allen was suspended from Fianna Fáil for a year and resigned from the national executive.

Mr Allen (66) has been involved in politics for 45 years. He was elected to the Dáil representing Wexford, aged 21, back in 1961, in succession to his father, Denis Allen, who had been a Fianna Fáil TD from 1927 until 1961.

Mr Allen still retains the record as the youngest person elected to the Dáil. He was re-elected in seven successive elections between 1961 and November 1982.

Mr Allen was a strong supporter of Charles Haughey during the 1970s and was appointed as a junior minister for agriculture when Mr Haughey became taoiseach in 1979. He was elected to the Dáil for the last time in the first election of 1982 when he was reappointed as a junior minister.

A vociferous supporter of Mr Haughey during the leadership heaves of the early 1980s, he attracted a considerable level of national publicity. However, he lost his Dáil seat in the second election of 1982 and failed to regain it in 1987 and 1989. He served as a senator during the 1980s and retained his council seat for the Gorey electoral area at successive elections.

Mr Allen retained an ambition to make a return to the Dáil and sought a Fianna Fáil nomination to run again in the next general election. He lost out to the sitting TD in the north Wexford area, John Browne. - Stephen Collins