A letter to Clare County Council urging planners to permit the construction of a large scale motorway service station off the M18 near Ennis was written in the name of a relative of the main planning advisor to Pat McDonagh, founder of Supermac's, the company seeking approval for the development.
The letter was written by Robert Connellan, son of Noel Connellan, principal of Connellan & Associates. It was dated August 13th 2018, shortly before the deadline for submissions on the planning application.
In the letter, Robert Connellan gave as his address as Sonas, Cahercalla Wood, Ennis, Co Clare.
The main expert opinion supporting the planning application was produced by Connellan & Associates giving the same address - Sonas, Cahercalla Wood, Ennis, Co Clare. The Connellan & Associates report supporting Mr McDonagh's planning application was authored by Mary Lynch.
Connellan & Associates also have an address at No 1 St Anthony’s Terrace, Harmony Row, Ennis, Co Clare.
In a statement on Friday evening, Noel Connellan said: “‘Sonas’, Cahercalla Wood, Ennis, is Robert Connellan’s family home and postal address.
“This is also the address of Connellan & Associates.
“Robert Connellan is my adult son. He is not involved in the firm of Connellan & Associates. Neither I nor anyone in the firm was aware that any such submission was being made.”
Robert Connellan's letter was among the 180 or so letters urging the council to grant planning permission. They were delivered in bulk to the council offices by Howard Williams, another consultant working for Mr McDonagh.
Mr McDonagh has denied being involved in the instigation of the letters but acknowledged that Supermac’s agreed to pay the €20 submission fee for each letter. Mr McDonagh said a week ago that the money had yet to be reimbursed and it is not clear to whom it would be.
Many of the letters used people’s names and addresses without their knowledge and involved forged signatures. Mr McDonagh has condemned this.
The use of forged signatures on fake declarations of support for Mr McDonagh’s plan emerged when the council wrote to the supposed authors acknowledging their correspondence.
Some 40 people contacted the council to complain and 27 have formally withdrawn what were not their letters in the first place.
It has been learnt that 23 other letters of acknowledgement from the council were returned to it by An Post because they could not be delivered, either because the address was in some way incorrect or did not exist.
Clare Council has now removed online copies of the fake letters of support and their withdrawal letters but the originals of both remain in the physical file of the planning application. The fakes were removed because of general data protection regulation (GDPR) fears by council staff.
“Leaving something up that was proven not to be legitimate” could have been in breach of GDPR, said a spokesman, and could “confuse people”.
The council’s undelivered acknowledgement letters were being scanned and would be made available online shortly, he added.
A decision on the planning application, which is opposed by a coalition of long-established Ennis hotels and retail outlets, is due on September 4th.